With the international break thrust upon us, it is a good time to look back at the first month of the season. How have those touted for a title challenge faired? What about those who were tipped to be pushing for a top six?
Has three become two?
For so much of last season, there was a genuine three-way title race, with Spurs refusing to give ground to Liverpool and City. The big question this time around was, would there be a repeat? There was no indication that the top two last year would not be even stronger this season. After having splashed the cash in the summer, added to the confidence gained from last year’s campaign, the signs were good for Tottenham to at least match last season’s efforts, if not go even better. So has it turned out that way? Liverpool have been imperious and have come through some potentially tricky ties with a hundred percent record. Looking at Oddschecker, it is plain the bookies fancy Manchester City to clinch their first Champions League title, but this doesn’t mean that their chances of winning the EPL yet again should hinder in any way. They have impressed without yet hitting top gear.
Spurs on the other hand, despite expectations, have reverted to, well, being Spursy once again. The home loss to Newcastle is just the result that last season proved could cost you the title, as incredible as that sounds. They were fortunate to get anything at Manchester City and let a two-goal lead go in the North London derby. There is also the ongoing Erikson saga, which is bound to unsettle the dressing room.
Six of the best
Perhaps just as intriguing as the title race, this season promises extra competition for the remaining Champions League places, as well as for those for the Europa. With the continuing woes at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, those three are in no way guaranteed a top-six spot. With one win in the opening four games, Manchester United have been too close to the team that ended last season as opposed to the one at the start of Solskjaer’s reign. The one bright spark so far has been the performances of Daniel James. That alone will not be enough on this evidence to keep the Norwegian in his job.
Chelsea have struggled so far under Lampard. He will be given time due to the circumstances, but they have to be careful that they are not adrift in midtable by the time he manages to get a tune out of the players he has that is worth listening to. Their next two games are away at Wolves and home to Liverpool. It is not beyond the realms of possibility they will get no points from those, and the pressure will really start to mount on the young gaffer’s shoulders.
To be fair to Arsenal, they have lost the game they were expected to lose, won the two they should have won, and showed the character to come back from two down against Spurs. Of the three stalwarts, they are looking best placed for a top-four finish.
Watford and Wolves have been the biggest disappointments thus far. The way they took their game to the big boys, particularly Nuno’s Wolves, was a breath of fresh air last season. You have to think the Black Country outfit will start to rise up the league, but you do fear for Gracia, with those above him not known for their patience. Leicester have started well, albeit perhaps down to a kind set of fixtures. With Man U, Spurs and Liverpool coming in the next four games, it will be the time to judge them after that.
Everton sit in sixth place without really impressing, and I’m not sure they have shown enough to prove they are capable of a prolonged campaign. Could Palace be this year’s Wolves? Keeping Zaha was a show of intent, especially when they followed it up by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in the EPL.
It is still early days, but it has been an intriguing start to proceedings. Already teams have underperformed, while others are punching above their weight. The EPL season is long and gruelling, and those who aren’t capable of maintaining their form for the entire campaign will certainly be found out.