With Manchester Utd and Manchester City dominating English football early on, who will win the race for third and fourth?
Manchester Utd and Manchester City have hit the ground running in their opening games this season, sending a warning the pretenders of the Premier League. It doesn't take a football genius to know that the title is going to be fought out between the two big spending Manchester sides. However, as thrilling as the title race, will be the scrap for third and fourth.
It is easy to go with history and the track record of Chelsea to claim that they will stroll into third spot, in what some fans are calling a 'transitional' season for the club. But that is a naive statement. Frank Lampard has enjoyed the peak of his career, regularly scoring goals with his late runs into the box, and equally setting up his fair share. It would be blindly jumping on the bandwagon to say he is now totally past it, but it is clear for all to see that we have seen his best years. He looks a lot slower and off the pace, he also doesn't seem to have that vision and flare he has possessed in previous campaigns. Despite this Chelsea are a strong outfit. Torres looked dangerous against Man Utd, putting himself about the park and being the main threat to the young Manchester back four. However he is not scoring goals, and he has not scored goals since his exit from Anfield. Additionally, with the injury to Drogba, and Anelka not pleasing it could be a struggle for the Chelsea stars to shine this year.
The dark horse for me this season is under-rated Spurs. As a West Ham fan it pains me to say it but Spurs are a strong contender for Champions League football next season. Two reasons lead me to this conclusion; Harry Redknapp and their midfield. Firstly their manager is easily one of the best English managers of our generation. He instils a confidence in his team which a lot of other managers fail to do, and he furthermore always seems to get the best out of players, even ones who are struggling for form. That is why I think it would have been interesting to see how underperforming Joe Cole would have got on at Spurs under Harry. Redknapp has also formed one of the strongest midfield line ups of the Premier League; Rafael Van Der Vart, Luca Modric, Scott Parker and Gareth Bale have it all. The creativity of Modric working a long side the disciplined and hard-working Scott Parker, coinciding with the goal threat of Van Der Vart and the sheer pace and attacking nature of Bale is enough to tear any defence to pieces on their day. Plus, with the reliable figure of Brad Friedel between the sticks leads me to believe that Tottenham's biggest trouble this season lies in their weak striking force. If Defoe delivers this season I can't see Spurs not getting inside that top four.
Liverpool have had a turbulent start to the season. It will be interesting to see how their season comes together, as they have bought in some real quality in Charlie Adam and Stewert Downing. Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez upfront form a real goal threat, and with an injury-free Steven Gerrard right behind them they are sure to worry their rivals.
Finally we have to acknowledge the depleted Arsenal team. It would be a ridiculous statement to question Arsene Wenger’s ability as a manager. Over the years some we have seen some of the biggest stars in the Premier League; Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Patrick Viera, all thanks to the Gooner’s boss. Wenger also delivered to Arsenal fans a whole league season unbeaten in the Premier League, which will most probably never be achieved by any other manager, ever again. However for this season Arsenal will not finish in the top four, which is a shame, because I’m sure most fans respect the way Wenger has stuck to his morals in the face of criticism. On the other hand Wenger knows as well as anyone that football has changed, he needs to spend bigger if he is to get Arsenal competiting in the Champions League in years to come.
So, as the season is now underway it is easier to make a judgement of who has delivered the business over the summer transfer window. Manchester Utd and Manchester City look dangerously impressive and it is hard to see the title not heading to Manchester. Chelsea are not guaranteed Champions League football next season, they have stiff competition from Spurs and Liverpool. Time can only tell, but Andre Villas-Boas might not look so relaxed come the end of the season.