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Premier League Report Card for the First Third of the Season: Chelsea on Top

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Premier League Report Card for the First Third of the Season: Chelsea on Top
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All 20 clubs in the English Premier League have now played 13 games, basically one-third of their season. As we head toward the cold days of winter, the defending champs from West London again sit atop the table. Chelsea, the title winners a season ago, lead the Premier League once again with a slim two-point cushion over second place Arsenal.

The real story may not be the usual suspects who sit atop the table, but the incredible bunch-up in the pack from just outside the Top Four all the way down toward the bottom. Indeed, a team toward the cellar of the standings need simply win a couple games in a row to magically jump eight to ten spots on the table.

Although some separation may be beginning at the very bottom, with the two last-place clubs, Wolves and West Ham, both sitting at nine points, the table from the fifth spot, held by Bolton, to the 18th spot, held by Birmingham, is only separated by six points.

That is an amazing 14 teams within six points of each other. Talk about parity!

It definitely seems like the Top Three—Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United—have a strong chance to separate themselves from the rest of the pack as the season turns to its middle third. The only question may be if Manchester City goes along for the ride with the Top Three, or opens up the fourth spot for about five or six clubs to fight over.

If City did fall back to the pack, some of the teams that would be in the hunt for that sought-after fourth spot would include Tottenham, Everton, Aston Villa, Liverpool and, of course, Manchester City themselves.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Everton may be one of the teams chasing down the top four

Despite the fact that City has dropped some crucial points in the first third of the season, manager Roberto Mancini is happy with where the club is through 13 games.

"If the Premier League finished tomorrow, I am happy," Mancini said after his team played a scoreless draw with Birmingham on Saturday. "Our target is to get to the Champions League."

Despite their disappointing loss to Sunderland at home on Sunday, defending champions and league-leading Chelsea have without a doubt played the best football of anyone to start the season. They have done this without their leader, midfielder Frank Lampard, who has been out with injury since late August. The English international was due to come back today versus Sunderland, but a rehabilitation set-back will keep him sidelined at least another two weeks, most likely three.

When Lampard does return it will almost seem like Chelsea is adding a huge player from the transfer wire.

Arsenal, second on the table, has been consistent all year and looks to be the most likely candidate to threaten Chelsea for the title.

Manchester United, currently third on the table, seems old, disinterested and, at times, like an almost ordinary club. Yet there they are, third on the table and certainly within striking distance of Chelsea should they get rolling, which no doubt they will eventually.

Indeed, the title race between the Top Three may come down to who does the best in the January transfer window. Rumors abound, and as always it is difficult to separate absurdity from possibility when sorting through all this daily speculation.

Here is quick look at the current standings and where I think each club will finish in the end.

1. Chelsea (will finish 1)

2. Arsenal (will finish 2)

3. Manchester United (will finish 3)

4. Manchester City (will finish 4)

5.Bolton (will finish 11)

6. Sunderland (will finish 12)

7. Tottenham (will finish 5)

8. Newcastle (will finish 8)

9. Aston Villa (will finish 7)

10. Stoke City (will finish 10)

11. Liverpool (will finish 9)

12. WBA (will finish 16)

13. Everton (will finish 6)

14. Blackburn (will finish 14)

15. Blackpool (will finish 18)

16. Fulham (Will finish 19)

17 Wigan (will finish 13)

18. Birmingham (will finish 17)

19. Wolves (will finish 20)

20. West Ham (will finish 15)

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