The Barclays Premier League is beginning to hot up as several teams aim to mount a serious title challenge in the most open title race for years.
The departure of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years has blown the league wide open since Man Utd are already looking unlikely to reproduce last season’s dominating form under new manager David Moyes, who is under pressure after losing 3 of his opening 7 league matches. Moyes has complained that his new squad is lacking ‘5 or 6 world class players,’ indicating that Ferguson had a vital role in delivering another league title to Old Trafford with arguably his weakest squad.
With the absence of a juggernaut side this season, more teams than ever are realistically aiming to finish on top. After 7 games played Arsenal will sit top of the tree over the international break with 16 points. Arsenal, who last won the league in 2004, are unbeaten since their opening day home defeat and the arrival of £40 million playmaker Mesut Ozil who has inspired the Gunner’s fine form. Arsene Wenger’s side won 5 league games in a row, and both of their Champions League group games, to top the league but drew away to West Brom to reduce their advantage over Liverpool to goals scored. Galvanised by the form of Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Ozil, Arsenal are the most exciting team to watch in the league, but first they must prove that they are winners who are capable of winning difficult matches, which has been the downfall to Wenger’s sides since their last trophy in 2005.
Manchester City and Chelsea who finished 2nd and 3rd behind Man Utd last season are both going through periods of transition with new, and returning, managers. City sacked Roberto Mancini at the end of last season after he failed to defend the Premier League, losing to United by 11 points, and losing the FA Cup final to relegated Wigan. Ex Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini was hired to deliver success back to the Etihad, despite failing to win a major trophy during his time in Spain. City have had an inconsistent start to the season, producing their best performance so far to beat rivals United 4-1, but suffering defeats to Aston Villa and promoted Cardiff City. They were also demolished 3-1 at home to European champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League. City spent big during the summer, spending over £100 million on talent including strikers Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic plus midfielders Jesus Navas and Fernandinho, and boast one of the strongest squads in the division. It will take time to see if City settle down and produce the consistent results needed to reclaim the league title.
Chelsea have also seen the return of the ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho, who has had a less than special start to his second spell at the club. Although sitting 3rd in the table, Chelsea have had unspectacular draws away at Man Utd and Tottenham while losing away to Everton and losing at home to Basel in the Champions League. Attackers Andre Schurrle, Willian and Samuel Eto’o were brought in during the summer but the departure of striker Romeo Lukaku on a seasons long loan to Everton has caused the biggest stir at the club. Lukaku scored 17 goals while on loan at West Brom last season and has scored 4 goals in 3 games already with Everton this season. Considering their remaining strikers Eto’o, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres have all failed to score a league goal so far, Chelsea fans should be wondering why their best striker has left the club. Its always a drama under Mourinho, he has already walked out of a press conference over questions about the dropping of Juan Mata, but the Portuguese is the most successful manager in the league and he has inherited a strong Chelsea squad. The combination makes it difficult to look past Chelsea when picking a winner, but with Chelsea and Mourinho its never that easy.
Tottenham are another team who heavily invested in the summer, but that has resulted in increased expectations. After selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for around £85 million, Spurs reinvested in the squad by spending over £100 million on talent like Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Paulinho. As a result of the number of talented players signed over the summer Spurs are expected to challenge for the title this season, with top 4 as a minimum, but their start to the season has been less than extraordinary. Spurs have so far failed a team sharing their title ambitions, losing to rivals Arsenal and drawing at home to Chelsea, also in one of the results of the season so far Andre Villas Boas’ side were beaten 3-0 at home by West Ham as Spurs missed out on the chance to go level on points with Arsenal and Liverpool. The West Ham result also resurfaced doubts regarding Spurs and their ambitions, whether it will take time for their new signings to settle down and gel as a team after the transformation of their squad over the window and whether their midweek Europa League matches negatively affect their Premier League matches on the weekend. Tottenham lost to West Ham on the Sunday after playing away in Russia on the Thursday.
Finally, Liverpool have emerged as a serious threat after making an excellent start to their league campaign. Three straight 1-0 wins, including a home victory over rivals Man Utd, gave Liverpool an early lead at the top of the league but a draw away to Swansea and a home defeat to Southampton brought the reds back to reality. However, the return of Luis Suarez inspired Brendan Rodgers side to consecutive victories over Sunderland and Crystal Palace, with the Suarez and Sturridge partnership being the envy of the league. Sturridge has scored 6 goals in 7 league games and Suarez has netted 3 in 2 since returning from his ban for biting. Liverpool finished 7th last season but are now sitting 2nd only behind on Arsenal on goals scored and with the new SAS attacking threat and without any European commitments to add to their schedule, they believe that breaking back into the top 4 is a realistic target with anything more a bonus.
All of the above teams will be competing for the Premier League title or Champions League places this year, but there isn’t room for all of them. It would take a brave man to put money on who is going to come out on top, and who is going to miss out.