This week, the football headlines have been all about Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Not many of those headlines were positive.
The reality is that all three of these teams have endured slightly underwhelming starts to the season; and in particular, the last week or so certainly hasn’t flattered any of them.
For me, what has seemed inescapably obvious this week is that it is highly unlikely that any of these teams will be able to mount a sustained title challenge. Let’s consider them in turn:
Liverpool – shorn of their brightest spark, Luis Suarez – have not had an awful season, but the reality is that so far none of their performances have indicated that they have a title challenge in them. They have – quite clearly – gone backwards since the exploits of last season, and as Steven Gerrard continues to deteriorate as a footballer and the many new recruits look to bed in, it looks like they may have reached their zenith last season. It is true that they looked great in their 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane, but a comprehensive loss at the hands of West Ham certainly looks to have indicated that Brendan Rodgers simply doesn’t have the team as his disposal to compete at the top of the table this season.
Similarly, Arsenal have not endured an abysmal start to the season, but what is clear is that their squad is woefully short in crucial areas. An embarrassment of riches in the forward positions is quickly undone by possessing precious little quality in the defensive third of the pitch. As I remarked in an earlier article this week, it seems highly incongruous that Wenger would choose not to strengthen his defence; especially with Thomas Vermaelen departing at the end of the transfer window.
As with last season, it will be Wenger’s reticence to enter the transfer market that is likely to prove his side’s undoing this time around. Had the Frenchman invested in one or two quality defenders, then there would be pundits queuing up to tip this Arsenal side for the very top. As it is, the side looks unbalanced, and unless they enjoy a miraculously injury-free season, they will leak too many goals to have a genuine shot at the title.
The same defensive problems are very much present at Old Trafford, with United only having one fit centre back available for this weekend’s game with West Ham. Once again, van Gaal’s decision to spend the bulk of his transfer budget on attacking players and fail to invest adequately in defence means that United cannot be seriously considered as contenders this year.
So having very brashly ruled out United, Liverpool and Arsenal, who am I tipping to win the league?
Well, the truth is, I’m still teetering on the fence. I am positive that Chelsea and City will finish in the top two spots – their superiority to the other three teams I’ve mentioned is obvious to even the most casual of football observers – but I am reticent to come down and back one side.
But given that imprecise and indistinct predictions aren’t exactly the most exciting to read about, I’ve thought long and hard about who I believe will lift the Premier League title this season.
It’s going to be Chelsea. Jose Mourinho’s side were so close to finishing top of the pile last season, and having strengthened every single area of weakness in the last transfer window, the blue machine looks ready to roll on as it did in Mourinho’s first ever season in the Premier League nearly 10 years ago.
Don’t get me wrong, City are serious contenders, but having watched Mourinho closely for a number of years, I just can’t shake the nagging feeling that the Portuguese knows how to win these tight games; and as Pellegrini showed a number of times last year, he doesn’t quite have that same knack as Mourinho. With Chelsea seemingly more able to win the stubborn tests against the so-called lesser teams this season, Mourinho’s tactical acumen in the big contests is likely to push his team over the line.