Just three weeks into the Premier League season, and it's already shaping up to be a hotly contested race to the top of the table.
Chelsea have sprinted out to an early lead with three lopsided wins in three matches, but there's plenty of elite company—and some surprising names—surrounding them atop the table. With a few traditional powerhouses struggling and newcomers making noise, the final 35 weeks should prove to be much more thrilling than the first three.
Here is a look at the current Premier League table after Week 3 matches.
|11||West Ham United||3||1||0||2||4||5||-1||3|
|12||Queens Park Rangers||3||1||0||2||1||5||-4||3|
|18||West Bromwich Albion||3||0||2||1||2||5||-3||2|
Things have started with a bang in England, but it only gets better as Matchday 4 looms. Take a glance at next weekend's fixtures with picks.
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Arsenal vs. Manchester City||1-1|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Sunderland vs. Tottenham||0-1|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Stoke City vs. Leicester City||2-1|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Crystal Palace vs. Burnley||2-0|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Chelsea vs. Swansea City||3-1|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||West Brom vs. Everton||0-2|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Southampton vs. Newcastle||1-1|
|Saturday, Sept. 13||Liverpool vs. Aston Villa||3-2|
|Sunday, Sept. 14||Manchester United vs. QPR||2-1|
|Monday, Sept. 15||Hull City vs. West Ham||2-2|
Steven Cook's picks
Arsenal vs. Manchester City
It's a long Premier League season, but Manchester City and Arsenal can't afford to lose too much pace with Chelsea if they are seeking a title chase. That's what makes the marquee match of Week 4 so crucial.
The reigning title champions will travel to Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal, and failing to secure points for the second week in a row could prove detrimental to Manuel Pellegrini's quest for a repeat.
City were shockingly beaten at home during Week 3 by Stoke City, when Mame Biram Diouf took it the distance and hit it past Joe Hart with a nutmeg to score the only goal in a 1-0 stunner. It marked the first Premier League loss that City have faced since falling to Liverpool 3-2 in April.
Is Alexis Sanchez the right replacement for Giroud?
Arsenal have their own problems entering the match. Striker Olivier Giroud suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out possibly until 2015, Arsene Wenger told Daily Mail's Michael Gadd. Alexis Sanchez replaced Giroud at striker against Besiktas, scoring a crucial winner to etch the Gunners' place in the Champions League group stage.
Sanchez will have his hands full heading the attack against City's strong, physical defenders. But playing at home, Arsenal tend to get into their offensive flow during key stages and should produce enough offense to stay in it. City will put the clamps down defensively to avoid another loss, but won't be able to generate the chances necessary to win against a more energized side.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City
Chelsea vs. Swansea City
Just like we all drew up, it's Chelsea and Swansea City still standing as the untouched leaders of the league through three weeks of play.
OK, maybe not all of us expected Swansea to be a part of things, as ESPN's Paul Carr alluded to:
As expected, the last 2 perfect PL teams are Chelsea &...Swansea City. They meet on the next matchday Sept. 13.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) August 31, 2014
But that's the reality in the EPL as Matchday 4 looms. A Swansea victory would put them alone atop the table through nearly a month of the season, and what a shocking start that would be.
It will be easier said than done at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. In fact, it could prove to be downright impossible with the way Jose Mourinho's men are clicking. They exploded for six goals in a 6-3 stomping of Everton in Week 3.
And as if they needed the help, the Blues unveiled a new signing to replace departed striker Fernando Torres:
Cesc Fabregas is meshing brilliantly in the Chelsea attack, letting Eden Hazard run free and Diego Costa finish opportunities. The defensive lapses can crop up, but are immediately answered with goals of their own.
Swansea have impressed with victories over Manchester United, Burnley and West Brom, but they will face a whole new beast in Stamford Bridge. It will take 90 minutes of strong defending to keep the Blues scoreless, and even then, Chelsea can strike in the blink of an eye.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Swansea City
Manchester United vs. QPR
It's safe to say that starting out like last season isn't how Manchester United fans wanted to begin 2014-15, but the panic button has yet to be pressed. That may change after Matchday 4.
United face Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford, an early-season fixture that the Red Devils can ill-afford to mess up if they have any true aspirations of keeping pace with the league leaders.
Louis van Gaal's side boast a lowly two points through three matches—drawing their most recent two affairs against inferior clubs after losing the opener to Swansea. His implementation of an unconventional defense hasn't worked so far, as he aims to find the right personnel to pull it off.
“You have to wait and have belief that it will happen. Every word that a manager says at this moment when you have two from nine points is one word too much.”
United will look like a much different squad in a few months when new signings get more accustomed, but for now it's up to main contributors like Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia to jump start the offense.
QPR can prove to be a test, but after letting up five goals in three matches to just one goal scored, they won't be able to hang with United's offensive output. Even if Van Gaal's men fail to find chemistry, they will do enough to gain three points.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 QPR