Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's a two - neigh a three - horse Premiership race

October is of course early days in terms of an entire season but the Premiership looks to have already taken on a shade of blue again as Chelsea and Manchester City currently lead the way.

Chelsea were backed by many before the season started with the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Allied to the return of Nemanja Matic in January, many of last seasons' shortcomings were seen to be remedied.

Costa's start has of course been phenomenal and if those much talked about hamstrings (Mourinho playing it up to pressurise Spain not to play him?) hold out for a season and he maintains anything like this form, Chelsea will be tough to beat.

Whilst Costa's all round play has been good, his real boon to Chelsea has been in allowing them to score the type of goals that they simply would not have last season.

He is a true predator, a 'killer' as Arsene Wenger said before he attempted a slightly pantomime impression of one himself at the weekend.

Cesc has also been immense since joining the club and it may simply be that many people had forgotten just how good he is given the players around him at Barca.

He was after all probably the outstanding midfielder in the Premiership before his departure to Catalonia.

Costa's hamstrings and Terry's ageing legs will be concerns but this looks the best Chelsea squad in years. Mourinho's tactical nous (love him or hate him) also remains a trump card. Should Chelsea improve their results against the lower half of the table then they are the team to beat.

Manchester City remain a class act and a hugely physically imposing team. The addition of Mangala at centre back looks a good one alongside Kompany.

In Toure (the interested version), David Silva and Sergio Aguero they have three supreme match winners and Edin Dzeko should also relish additional responsibility and match time.

Frank Lampard has also been a wonderful bonus as Chelsea found to their cost recently. The gap would be eight points without his late strike against his former side.

City are looking to gather momentum but they need to find a way to deal with teams more effectively that sit deep against them at the Etihad.

Pellegrini's obvious consternation against both Stoke and Chelsea show that it is possible to frustrate them by defending deep. They have far too much quality for most teams in the EPL however.

Arsenal and Wenger it seems appear impervious to any notion of change.

In the past two Summers, it would be hard to criticise a team for buying two players of the quality of Ozil and Sanchez but the reality is that none of the obvious deficiencies in the team have been addressed.

Chelsea did not need to be remotely at their best to brush Arsenal aside on Sunday and the lack of any real grit or character in the side remains a problem.

Arsenal are a wonderful team when they have the ball but they are poor when they lose possession. Wenger clearly wants to mimic Guardiola's teams but the reality is that they work just as hard without the ball, pressing all over the pitch.

Arsenal do not and are the big teams find them easy to pick off. Their results against the other top teams in the division are simply appalling.

After last season's near miss, this time around was bound to be tough for Liverpool.

The departure of Luis Suarez was always going to leave a hole but no one had possibly realised just how big and his absence has been compounded by the injury to Daniel Sturridge.

Nearly every side who sells a player head and shoulders above anything else in their team struggles the following season and the reality is that Liverpool's potent attacking play and goals scoring last season papered over a myriad of cracks.

The need for rotation around the Champions League is also a huge added burden on both the squad and Rodgers.

Liverpool should improve as the new additions integrate in to the team but the loss of Suarez and father time catching up with Gerrard mean that they are not as strong as they were last season. Qualifying for the Champions League again should be seen as a successful season.

The joker in the pack and the third horse I earlier referred to is Manchester United. They are entirely unrecognisable from almost any of their sides in the past twenty years and it is incredibly difficult to assess where they sit in the scheme of things.

One could possibly present an argument for them finishing anywhere from first to seventh such is the nature of their play so far this season but I have a feeling they are going to be closer to first than seventh for the following reasons.

Liverpool last season showed that even with a dodgy defence, the absence of European football and one star player with a good support class could sustain a title challenge.

Chelsea last season were exceptional against the top six yet flunked their title lines by not being clinical enough against the lower half of the table. Liverpool simply blew most of the league away after the Fulham match.

In Angel Di Maria, United have one of the outstanding talents in world football right now. His direct running and passing is causing havoc against the teams that United have played against so far.

With a support cast of Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney and co they will simply have too much firepower for the majority of teams.

Leicester I hear you cry (!!) as well as close run things against West Ham and Everton and they are very valid points.

United's back four are taking the lions' share of the blame but the reality is that United are horribly open when they lose the ball and this must be addressed.

My point would be that Louis Van Gaal is too good a coach not to correct this.

Van Gaal's methods require very exacting demands of his players, his planning is meticulous in terms of game strategy and instructions. It takes time for players to adjust to this style of management and he has suffered slow starts elsewhere in his career.

United will improve and have several players due to come back from injury. The likes of Michael Carrick will help United to keep the ball later in matches rather than play at the breakneck speed they only seem capable of at the moment.

United have slipped into fourth place after admittedly a mediocre start and without playing the top teams yet. Van Gaal will need to find a way to play against the likes of City and Chelsea to avoid more results like at Leicester.

If the Dutchman can find a way to keep United in touch into the new year then United may be well placed to benefit just as Liverpool did last year from better fitness, less games and more time on the training pitch.

Chelsea will hope to go deep into the Champions League tournament and Mourinho is usually loathe to rotate too much.

City's first two results in the CL leave them with the possibility of dropping into the Europa League and the seemingly hazardous combination of Thursday and Sunday football (can anyone really explain this one to me!?).

If United can maintain their recent home results and find a formula to win on the road against the lower half teams then they should at least garner enough points to make the top four even if the title seems a bit of a stretch.

Spurs and Everton have given the top four a scare in recent seasons but the reality is that neither possesses the quality to sustain a title challenge.

So it looks like Blue Ribbons (either light or royal) on the trophy once more but beware that very big (although Jose may currently refer to them as little) thoroughbred from Old Trafford, it's certainly a wild one - No Nonsense.