While results in the Champions League have only furthered the debate about whether it is the best league in the world, events so far this season have unquestionably made it the most unpredictable among Europe’s top divisions. Certainly few could have foreseen that champions Chelsea would have lost as many games in the first five games of this campaign as they did through the entirety of last season. The same goes for West Ham winning away at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City.
With the Premier League currently taking a mini-break for the Capital One Cup, now is a good time to look at how the title challengers have fared thus far and assessing what might happen next.
Manchester City (1st place, 15 points)
After their poor title defense last season, Manchester City began this campaign as if determined to be crowned champions for the third time in five years. They have so far been by far the most convincing team, with the likes of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure seemingly rejuvenated, David Silva imperious and big-money new signings Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne making encouraging starts. But a 2-1 home defeat to West Ham at the weekend has just halted their momentum. How Manuel Pellegrini’s side bounce back from that against Tottenham on Saturday will provide a hint as to whether they can maintain their early physical and mental intensity.
Manchester United (2nd place, 13 points)
It still feels somewhat incongruous that Manchester United should be only two points behind their local rivals. Louis van Gaal’s side have yet to put together a complete performance this season, only occasionally sparking into life going forward as well as displaying vulnerability at the back. Still, there have been signs of a step forward from last season. In particular, the midfield is far more solid and the team is certainly closer to matching the coach’s ideology. But there is a worrying reliance on young forwards Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial to provide the inspiration in attack. Trips to Arsenal and Everton and the visit of Manchester City in the next five weeks will go a long way to deciding whether United can truly push all the way for the title.
Arsenal (5th place, 10 points)
Arsenal went into this season with big expectations and with manager Arsene Wenger explicitly targeting the club’s first Premier League title since 2004. Yet, so far, it has all felt frustratingly familiar at the Emirates. When confidence was at the highest following their Community Shield win, Arsenal followed with a home loss to West Ham, and on Saturday there was a customary defeat to Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. There is plenty of talent in the squad and they should move up the table, but, as could easily have been foreseen, a lack of world-class talent at forward and a shortage of depth in defensive midfield appears that it may prove costly. The Gunners need to assert themselves in tough matches against high-flying Leicester and Manchester United in the next two weeks.
Chelsea (15th place, 7 points)
There has been no bigger surprise this season than the champions’ plight. Although there was reason to think that Chelsea may have some issues, given the failure to improve their first XI in the summer, it is hard to believe how dramatically the level of so many key players has fallen since last season. Mourinho, meanwhile, has been in fractious mood throughout the campaign, only fueling doubts about whether he can succeed in a third season at a club for the first time. Unless the situation implodes, Chelsea will surely get better, with Eden Hazard one of those it is hard to imagine not improving. If the Blues can build on the weekend’s encouraging win over Arsenal and regain their unmatched mental toughness and resilience then they could yet be a real factor in the title race.
Betting odds (via OddsChecker)
Manchester City: 4/7
Manchester United: 6/1
West Ham: 750/1
Crystal Palace: 1000/1
West Brom: 2000/1
Aston Villa: 5000/1