So, three rounds into the new season, with the transfer window closed and the players all on international break, now I think it seems like a good time to assess things and take a look at where we stand in relation to our rivals. The following is a brief look at each of the seven top clubs in the division, on how they’ve done so far, how well they did in the market and their prospects for the rest of the season…
LIVERPOOL – The surprise leaders at this stage and the only club left with a 100% record with three victories, all 1-0’s and all with goals from Daniel Sturridge. Already there have been (what most of us knew would be) the inevitable complaining and reproach of Chelsea for the sale of Sturridge, with some suggesting he’d be our first choice striker by now. I think he quite obviously wouldn’t be. Whatever the issue, whether it was technical or an attitude problem, he wasn’t cut out to be the #9 at Chelsea and to be honest, at Liverpool I think he’s found his level – with the club being large enough to satisfy his ego but with a squad not talented enough to take away the importance of his goal scoring, which it seems to me he needs to perform well.
So far I’ve been impressed but not overly impressed with Liverpool. Other than the three goals, their performances have been void of any moments of real quality and whilst they’ve been well organised in defence, their opponents haven’t managed to really stretch them so far (as to provide a real test). It’ll be interesting to see how Rodgers alters the side when Suarez comes back. Will he drop Aspas or possibly Henderson and change the formation completely?
I still think it’s difficult at this stage for Liverpool to finish in the top 4. Although Mamadou Sakho is a great signing in defence and I predict Victor Moses will thrive on loan, in similar fashion to Sturridge. I think Simon Mignolet is one of the top 5 keepers in the league as well. Predicted finish – 6th
MANCHESTER UTD – If I was a Utd fan, I’m not sure what I’d be more concerned about – how poorly they performed at Anfield or the fact that David Moyes claimed to think they performed well! The insipid toothlessness of their forward play in that game (and against us) must be a very serious early cause for concern. Already in his first three games, Moyes has seen Utd go two matches without scoring, something they hadn’t done since 2009!
I thought their performance in the transfer market was pretty shocking also. £27.5m for Marouane Fellaini is truly ridiculous. For a side like Everton his value is obvious, given his ability to win the ball and his threat from set pieces. But for a side like Utd who will dominate possession in the majority of matches, I can see him adding very little if anything to their attacking play. The fact that the Belgium NT usually tend to look worse for his inclusion, I think supports my point.
I’ve just got this feeling in the back of my mind that this season could be a disaster for Man Utd – I’m willing to accept at this stage it’s probably just wishful thinking. With a good defence and the best striker in the league, they’re still of course serious contenders. Predicted finish – 3rd
TOTTENHAM – For me, Spurs won the Transfer Window by a clear distance. To have sold Gareth Bale for £85m is unbelievable and their re-investment has been extremely impressive. In particular the signings of Paulinho and Christian Eriksen could prove to be two inspired purchases.
It hasn’t been an easy start however, relying on Roberto Soldado penalties to win their first two matches and losing to Arsenal in their most recent. Just like last season, it appears Tottenham have issues centrally, with their midfielders struggling to break forward in support of the centre forward. Nacer Chadli has also been disappointingly ineffective on the left wing. As it stands, what’s most important for Tottenham is that they have a solid defensive foundation to build upon. How quickly they can add an attacking fluency to their play will depend on how quickly Erik Lamela and Eriksen can adapt to the English game. In the absence of Bale, they’ll be the two players most responsible for providing some creativity. Predicted finish – 5th
ARSENAL – Without question the biggest news on Deadline Day was Arsenal breaking their transfer record by over £27m with their signing of Mesut Ozil. It’s a signing that doesn’t really address any of their specific problem areas; it also serves to mask how poorly Arsenal had performed up till then – it is however, still a world class signing. The German has been one of the world’s greatest players for the last three seasons since the 2010 World Cup; he is a #10 playmaker of the highest quality and it’ll be fascinating to see how he compares to Juan Mata in the Premier League, who in my opinion surpassed him last season as the best in Europe for their position.
Aside from the sudden huge increase in quality in midfield, Arsenal’s squad, and problems, remain much the same. The defence is good but well short of being world-class. Also, the midfield anchor of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere is notably light-weight and threatens to be dominated against the better sides. Upfront, Olivier Giroud has looked good so far this year, but his ability to lead a front line that can challenge for the title remains in doubt. Predicted finish 4th
MAN CITY – Things haven’t quite gone to plan for Man City so far with their defeat to Cardiff City the first real upset of the season. The loss of Vincent Kompany to injury was also a real blow. Other than that I’d say all other signs have been positive. Their early business in the transfer market was exceptional whilst already the tactical & managerial talents of Manuel Pellegrini are beginning to manifest themselves, with the players looking motivated and liberated, playing in a wonderfully simple yet fluid 4-4-2 formation. As far as I can see City’s is easily the strongest squad on paper and there’s still no reason they shouldn’t be considered favourites. Predicted finish – 1st
EVERTON – Of all the managerial appointments made this summer, there’s a case to be made for Roberto Martinez’ being the most intriguing, in the sense that still nobody really knows just how good he is. He showed at Wigan that he can be a great tactician and he can get great football out of average players, but he was never able to establish the Latics as a Premier League side the way Tony Pulis could with Stoke, for example.
His start with Everton has been underwhelming with only three draws so far, but after his club’s performance yesterday in the transfer market, things are looking positive for the Merseyside outfit this season. Even with the loss of Fellaini, having bought in James McCarthy, Arouna Kone, as well as (Barca youngster) Gerard Deulofeu, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku on loan, their squad is easily stronger than last season. To be honest I think a straight swap of Fellaini for Lukaku would’ve made Everton stronger right away. I imagine the retention of Leighton Baines will feel like a top signing in some sense to Everton fans also.
A lot of Chelsea fans aren’t happy about Lukaku being loaned out and I personally (at the start of the day) would’ve preferred for Demba Ba to have been moved out instead. At the end of last season however I thought Lukaku should stay out on loan and though I had changed my mind, the reasons I had are still valid. Obviously he’s already good enough to contribute to the side but if the manager sees him as 3rd choice behind Torres and Eto’o, then there’s no debate to be had, playing upfront all year for Everton will be better for him than sitting on the Chelsea bench. After finishing sixth last year, anything but top seven will be seen as a failure for Roberto Martinez. With Lukaku in his side however, I’d say it’s already practically in the bag.
CHELSEA – From a Chelsea point of view, the single biggest reason I’m glad this window is shut is that finally, all of this bullshit about Mata leaving the club can finally be brought to rest. Overall, I’d give our transfer business a 7/10. Marco Van Ginkel could prove to be a great acquisition in a vital position, Mark Schwarzer has cleared up the long standing goalkeeper issue, Samuel Eto’o adds depth, quality and experience to the forward line, whilst Willian joins the club with the endorsement of Eto’o as one of “the best players in modern football”. The only real disappointment for me is the lack of a defensive midfielder to match the quality of our attacking players. Daniele De Rossi would’ve been perfect – it’s shame that one couldn’t happen.
I’d probably give our match performances a similar grade to be honest. The Villa game was much harder than it needed to be whilst the Old Trafford game was a dud. Ironically, it was the only loss of the season so far that has given me most cause for optimism. I thought against Bayern we saw an illuminative glimpse of just how solid, inventive and effective this team can be, in possession or on the counter attack. The reviews we’ve heard of working under Mourinho from the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Ivanovic would all suggest there’s a good working atmosphere/ethos on the training ground and in the dressing room currently also.
At the moment, I’d say our most important players are still just a bit too young and inexperienced at this level to finish above Manchester City. But I do also think however, our potential to improve is much greater and we’re gaining on them quickly. It’ll be extremely close, for now however: Predicted finish – 2nd