The Big Four's Season So Far: Early Signs
Three of the Premier League's big four teams have played four games, and already you can sense the critics are sharpening their knives and picking out their prey. By no means is a club's fortunes clear at this early stage of the season, but what are the early signs?
Who have hit the ground running? Who have not quite? Who have ridden on their luck, and who have serious issues to deal with already?
Following the departures of Ronaldo and Tevez, most experts had predicted a return of the league trophy to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea appear a settled outfit, and with the only significant transfer action being incoming, Carlo Ancelotti could not have asked for more (though he probably did).
In terms of results until now, Chelsea have a perfect record and the big plusses for them seem to be the rejuvenation of some of their fringe players, most notably Ricardo Carvalho and Deco.
However, I am not too sure if they have convinced me as a side which can go on to win the league. If their competitors falter along the way, the Blues might just snick it. But they probably have the oldest starting eleven in the league, and do not have a third striker worth boasting about.
Add to that the transfer ban and the African Nations Cup, and you realise that Messrs Lampard and Terry indeed have their task cut out. In the end, I think it will all boil down to Ancelotti. If he can marshal his resources masterfully, then Chelsea definitely have enough characters in their numbers to bring back the title. But until the first strikes of adversity, I reserve my judgement.
Manchester United may appear a far weaker side with Valencia playing instead of Ronaldo, and that is mainly because it's true. With no Ronaldo, they have one of the least creative midfield's among the top six, and it is this absence of the X-factor which really makes me doubt their title credentials this time around.
Their defeat against Burnley notwithstanding, they have had a good start to the season compared to previous campaigns in recent history.
But they will have to go from strength to strength and become the first side in Premier League history to win the title four times in a row, then it is really up to Wayne Rooney to inspire this side and be the player Sir Alex Ferguson envisioned when he paid over the odds to land him. Whatever happens, anything lower than a second place finish would surprise me.
Arsenal may have lost at Old Trafford, but that's hardly a game that you simply must win to win the league. If Eduardo can stay fit and Vermaelen holds his own throughout, then this season could well be The Professor's 'coming of age'.
Their young side have played together enough, and the signs of a footballing giant are already there. But they should be hoping they are not as unlucky with injuries as they have been.
For the Gunners, the injury-free presence of Fabregas and Arshavin throughout the season would be reassuring, and as these are players I doubt they can do without. If there is one question mark on this young side, it has to be with the temperament of a number of their players. But that can all change with a winning habit.
Few people expected Liverpool to challenge Manchester United so heroically last season, and one could be forgiven for expecting more of the same from Rafa Benitez's men this time around. Unfortunately, they have so far seemed both off the pace and out of ideas at the same time.
With an untested Aquilani injured, they will be hard-pressed to even stay in the title hunt until Christmas. However, only a fool can write off a side which has Steven Gerrard in it. If you believe in Santa Claus and fairy tales and heaven, 'this might just be their year.' If you don't, gear up to watch them battle to hold on to fourth spot, a spot that Spurs and City both appear capable of reaching.
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