September is no time to be making snap judgements about how a team will fair in the Premier League – although I am ready to abandon my ridiculous notion that Spurs will finish anywhere other than sixth – but Manchester City are in danger of falling behind on several front at this early stage. Last Saturday, they were outplayed for the first 25 minutes by Arsenal at the Emirates, who did everything except score, with Danny Welbeck guilty of missing a great chance on his debut. However, the Gunners’ own frailties were made clear when they were caught on the break and fell behind to Sergio Aguero’s goal, but they turned the game around with goals from Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez in 10 second half minutes. City came back to earn a draw thanks to a header from Martin Demichelis, but on the back of a defeat against Stoke in their previous league match and with Chelsea up next – who beat them twice last season – the reigning champions are in danger of being winless in three Premierhsip games, something they avoided for all of 2013/14. They have already reached three in a row without victory in all competitions as they were beaten 1-0 in Munich at Bayern, who were without Frank Ribery and could only use Arjen Robben off the bench.
What is particularly worrying for Manchester City – and the rest of the Premier League in general – is how good Chelsea already look and how well Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have slotted into the side. Going forward, Jose Mourinho’s side look unstoppable and that is clear from the fact that they have racked up 15 goals in their four Premiership fixtures thus far, but if there is hope for everyone else, it is on the defensive end. Last weekend against Swansea – who also entered the game on 9 points from their opening three matches – Chelsea fell behind when John Terry diverted the ball into his own net, but then a hat-trick from Diego Costa and a debut strike from Loic Remy helped the Blues ease to victory, even with Jonjo Shelvey claiming a second for the Welsh club before the end. The one worry for Mourinho – other than his back line – is the fitness of Costa, who has been struggling with a hamstring issue (which also forced him off after ten minutes of last season’s Champions League final) and he was reduced to just a substitute appearance in Chelsea’s first European match of the campaign, a 1-1 home draw with Schalke. However, with Remy and Didier Drogba available as well, it is unlikely that the Blues will have similar striking issues that they had last year, when a lack of goals from the forward men was what ultimately cost them the title.
On Sunday, Manchester United were able to give home debuts to Marcos Rojo, Angel DiMaria, Daley Blind and, as a late substitute, Radamel Falcao as they romped to a 4-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers. So good is DiMaria, he was able to score when he was trying to assist (the first goal, a crossed free kick that eluded everybody and found its way into the back of the net); and assist when he was trying to score (the final goal, when his mishit shot found Juan Mata in the penalty area with just the keeper to beat). It was a much improved performance compared with United’s previous outings against MK Dons and Burnley, but this was QPR’s second 4-0 defeat of the season as they lost by that same margin at White Hart Lane. I think Louis Van Gaal’s side will be a great attacking side this year, but I still think they do not have enough grit in defense or midfield to make them serious contenders for a top four spot. Also, because they are not in Europe and are already out of the League Cup, keeping everybody happy with enough playing time will be an issue. Assuming that Falcao, DiMaria, Blind, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie will be automatic selections when fit (Rooney perhaps most likely to drop out of that group); and that either Ander Herrera or Michael Carrick will need to play to give some balance to the midfield; then there will be only one available spot (in a 3-5-2) for Mata, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini, Luke Shaw, Rafael, Adnan Januzaj,
Anderson and Ashley Young. If there was a need for squad rotation, this top-heavy squad might not be so much of an issue, but just 90 minutes a week is not enough to give everyone plenty of playing time.
Elsewhere last weekend, Aston Villa continued their impressive start to the season by beating Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield, with Brendan Rodgers’ side missing Daniel Sturridge up front due to injury. Tottenham managed to score and concede within the first three minutes of their match with Sunderland and ended up drawing 2-2 with the Black Cats when Harry Kane scored an own goal 8 minutes from time; while Hull and West Ham matched that scoreline in their Monday night encounter. There was an unhappy return to Southampton for Alan Pardew, who saw his Newcastle team thrashed 4-0 at St. Mary’s, putting them bottom of the table and his job on the line; there was a bore draw between Crystal Palace and Burnley; Everton got their first win of the season by beating West Brom 2-0; and Leicester won the East Midlands derby against Stoke, 1-0.
This weekend, the biggest fixture is the Sunday contest at the Etihad between Manchester City and the pretenders to their throne, Chelsea. The Blues may not head into that game at the top of the table however, as Aston Villa can (at least temporarily) overtake them if they can beat Arsenal at home on Saturday. The Gunners have not won in the Premiership since the opening day and lost 2-0 in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Based on the league table, another of the big matches this weekend is between Swansea and Southampton, who currently sit in 3rd and 4th respectively. The early match tomorrow is one that might be worth skipping, as QPR host Stoke; then Sunderland travel to Burnley; Newcastle will continue their search for a win against Hull; and the late kick off sees West Ham entertain Liverpool, with the Reds on a high after a victory in their first Champions League match for five years, striking late to beat Ludogrets 2-1. Alongside the City vs Chelsea game on Sunday, Leicester face Manchester United; Tottenham come back from Belgrade (where they drew 0-0 in the Europa League with Partizan) to take on West Brom; and Everton – who beat Wolfsburg 4-1 in the same competition – play Crystal Palace.
Last week, 7-3; Season 17-23
Home teams listed first
QPR vs Stoke – Away win
Aston Villa vs Arsenal – Away win
Burnley vs Sunderland – Home win
Newcastle vs Hull – Home win
Swansea vs Southampton – Draw
West Ham vs Liverpool – Draw
Leicester vs Manchester United – Away win
Tottenham vs West Brom – Away win
Everton vs Crystal Palace – Home win
Manchester City vs Chelsea – Away win