With the busy Christmas period fast approaching and The Premier League bubblingup into possibly the most competitive I have seen in my lifetime, it’s time to assess the start made by each club and look ahead to the remaining five months of the season.
Despite their recent pummeling, Arsenal currently lead the way and deservedly so. Ironically, after losing their first game of the season the knives were out for Arsene Wenger. He wasn't the only one under fire. Mertesacker, Ramsey and Giroud were considered by many to simply not be good enough for a team whose eyes are always fixed on the title. Fast forward four months and who would believe that these three men in particular would be so instrumental in their team's terrific start? Throw in qualification to the second phase of The Champions League and you would have to assume that the Gunners fans are dreaming of a return to the trophy winning years of a decade ago. There is little doubting that Wenger's men are now a well-oiled machine. The players all know theirjobs inside out with Wenger rarely changing his system and against the lesser lights in the league I always fancy them to out-score their opponents. It isagainst the big boys where I think they could struggle as, in my opinion, they don't have the class of player to go toe to toe with the main title contenders. Despite people constantly telling me that Mesut Ozil is world class, his inconsistency means that we only see occasional glimpses of real quality. His odd good performance is usually followed by half a dozen poor ones and despite Giroud performing admirably, unless Wenger acquires a new striker to help share the load, they could just tail off the longer the season goes on. Despite my slight reservations, Arsenal are a great club and if you were to pick any manager to steer their team home, Arsene Wenger would be top of that list.
My pre-season pick for the title, Chelsea, are proving difficult to assess. Another team who are crying out for a top class striker, Jose Mourinho's men arereliant on their array of 'Number 10's' to weave their magic. Mata, Oscar, Schurlle, Willian and Hazard can open up any defence and they will have to if Chelsea are to grind out another title under Mourinho. Despite flashes of quality, Torres, Ba and Eto'o are all failing to cement their place at thebusiness end of the team and despite what he says in front of the camera,Mourinho is surely kicking himself for letting Romelu Lukaku go out on loan to Everton. The January transfer window does provide an opportunity for Chelsea to strengthen up front but it's rare that top class talent becomes available half way through a season. Having said that, it still wouldn't be a huge shock if Chelsea were to go on and win a third title under Mourinho. Should he do just that, there can be no doubt The Special One will have lived up to his name.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Manchester City are the best team in The Premier League. Despite what some people say, the best team doesn't always win the league and unless City find the key to winning away from home, they could prove to be a case in point. They are simply sensational on their own patch and the only reason Bayern Munich walloped them at The Etihad was because Manuel Pelligrini missed a trick tactically, leaving Munich to dominate the midfield.You can't get away with leaving the centre of the pitch light by playing two out and out strikers against the very best teams in Europe as that game demonstrated. In Kompany, Zabaleta, Toure, Negredo and Aguero they have world class players capable of beating any team. With a supporting cast so rich in talent, they must be considered as the most likely winners at this stage.
Brendan Rodgers is impressing many a good judge by building a Liverpool team that are fully deserving of being labelled 'title contenders'. In Luis Suarez they have a player of immense talent who just continues to amaze. His tally of goals is astonishing when you consider he missed the first month of the season serving a ban from last season's misdemeanour. The injuries to Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge have to be of some concern but if Jordan Henderson's recentperformances are a sign of things to come then Liverpool could be in business. With Lucas patrolling in front of the back four offering much needed security while the likes of Coutinho weave their magic in attacking areas, there are encouraging signs that The Reds are firmly back in the big time. The noises I am hearing are that Rodgers has money to spend this coming window and should he unearth another couple of gems, I certainly wouldn't back against them liftingsome silverware come May.
The story of the season so far emanates from Old Trafford. There is no doubt in my mind that David Moyes will be a huge success at Manchester United for years to come. However, I doubt that even he was prepared for the sluggish way in which his team has started the season. After winning the league at a canter by 10 points last season, it seemed nearly impossible that they could be 10 points behind Arsenal after 16 games of this season. Moyes would have expected an instant return on his investment when buying Marrouaine Fellaini. I rate him highly in a certain type of team but I'm not sure he is a Manchester United player. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but maybe Moyes would have been better served by breaking the bank for another of Everton's players. A team consisting of two of the best youngsters in The Premier League, Adnan Januzaj and Ross Barkley, would have immediately sent out the message that Moyes is building a team to last. Throw in Jones, Welbeck, Smalling, Cleverley and the message becomes loud and clear. As it is, Moyes' sole acquisition was designed to make an immediate impression which, in my opinion, left him open to more criticism than should have been the case. Still, it's early days in his reign and the last few results suggest there is plenty of life left in some of the most decorated players The Premier League has ever seen. Smooth progress into the second round of The Champions League has been accomplished and make no mistake, every teamwill be looking over their shoulders dreading that famous post Christmas surge that has been a trademark of United over the past two decades.
I was one of those who thought it was impossible to improve on what David Moyes had built at Everton. The club I supported as a boy has to be the benchmark for nearly every team in The Premier League. With limited funds, a small squad and rickety old stadium, they have continued to punch way above their weight for years now and deserve huge credit. Roberto Martinez has immediately stamped his style on the team and make no mistake, they have players that would walk into any Premier League teams starting eleven. There are no weak links in their team and providing their treatment room stays empty, a Champions League place is well within their capabilities.
Tottenham Hotspur are a team who will be disappointed with their points return so far. They have also been on the end of two spankings which can shake a club to its roots. Those two results at the hands of Manchester City and Liverpool are not acceptable for a team of Spurs' standing and have no doubt been the main reason why Andre Villas Boas has lost his job. The money from the sale of Gareth Bale has, on the whole, been poorly reinvested and they seem to have taken a backward step since Harry Redknapp's departure. They have plenty to do if they have aspirations of qualifying for The Champions League. Deciding who is to replace Villas Boas in the hot seat is of huge importance. The Spurs board must get this one right if they are to keep tabs with the Premier League's elite.
Newcastle United are having another season to remember. It is no coincidencethat their poor form in the league last year coincided with a visit to The Europa League.The injuries amass and the accumulation of games takes its toll in that competition as Swansea are finding out this season. I expect The Magpies to post a top 10 finish. Southampton are another team that have impressed. It is great to see so many young English players doing so well and The Saints also look like top 10 material.
For the rest, Premier League survival has to be their main priority. Hull City have really impressed me. I thought they were relegation certainties prior tothe season but Steve Bruce has got them playing well. Swansea and Stoke should have too much to get sucked down there too. That leaves 8 teams to battle it out to stay in the division in my book. Aston Villa don't convince me at present and their best player is out of form. West Brom and West Ham are also out of formand plummeting fast. Cardiff and Norwich are digging in admirably while renewed belief appears to have lifted the spirits at Sunderland, Fulham and in particular, Crystal Palace.
Strap yourself in as this year's drama at both ends of the table is going to the wire!