The Premier League Is Back, But Who Has Impressed So Far?
So you’ve waited all summer for the football season to get underway and just as the tans start to fade and weekly match days become the norm again, the dreaded international break crops up and ruins it for everybody.
Well, everyone apart from Jose and Brendan. They’re probably grateful for the break and a chance to regroup.
Although it’s only four games in, it’s been an interesting start to the Premier League season. Teams have flourished, teams have floundered and teams have definitely struggled.
With the transfer window now closed until January, clubs will have to make do with the squads they have got to mount their title challenge. Sorry Arsenal fans.
At this point in the campaign, the league always springs a few early surprises, with Crystal Palace, Swansea and Leicester City sitting pretty in the Champions League automatic qualifying places, playing stylish, attractive and more importantly, winning football.
That’s testament to how indifferent a start the ‘big guns’ have had, as much as it is a compliment to said teams.
There may be 34 games left to play, but which of the top teams have caught the eye and which have left fans scratching their heads and turning to multiple Jager bombs?
Top of the class so far, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have enjoyed an impeccable start to the season, winning all four games played without conceding a goal.
Sheikh Mansour splashed the cash during the window, signing Fabian Delph, Raheem Sterling, Patrick Roberts, Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne, and strengthening the squad so significantly has already paid dividends.
Kudos must go to City’s regulars who, invigorated and refreshed, have stepped up to the mark.
Aleksandar Kolarov, Bacary Sagna, Eliaqium Mangala, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure have all contributed to the team’s fine form, along with a point-to-prove captain Vincent Kompany, and the ever-magical David Silva.
Sergio Aguero has yet to really get going – and that’s ominous in itself. Collectively, City look a force to be reckoned with and have set the standard for the season.
They are the team who could’ve least done with the international break to keep the momentum going – and it will be intriguing to see if their run continues with a trip to Selhurst Park this weekend, to play in-form Crystal Palace.
If City keep it up, their title rivals will be chasing their shadow for the rest of the season.
It’s Louis van Gaal’s second season at the helm of United and he’s off to an indifferent start.
1-0 wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa were followed up with a home draw to Newcastle and a 2-1 defeat away to Swansea.
Performances have been flat and uninspired, with Wayne Rooney failing to impress, leaving question marks over the forward’s form and future.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been activity in the transfer market at Old Trafford.
With Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Javier Hernandez, Nani and Robin van Persie among the names departing, Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin, Sergio Romero and #DeadlineDay sensation Anthony Martial are all new arrivals hoping to help Van Gaal secure his first Premier League trophy.
The rumoured £58 million price tag paid for 19 year old Frenchman Martial has been ridiculed, mainly because the striker is largely unproven – and immediately under a lot of pressure to deliver the goals in United’s quest for the title.
The question marks lie predominantly over who provides the creativity, not to mention the goals.
Memphis has been hit and miss so far, but Ander Herrera and Juan Mata are more than capable of conjuring up match-winning moments of magic. United are light up front and will be casting glances towards Rooney and Martial to deliver.
With a testing fixture against Liverpool next, it’ll be a measure of the manager as to how his team respond post-break to get their trophy challenge back on track.
It’s a different era at Old Trafford to when they won it with the kids, but Van Gaal will be hoping he has enough quality to mount a significant challenge, particularly to the noisiest of neighbours, title and borough rivals, City.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were widely tipped pre-season to be hot title favourites, but have made an inconsistent start to the campaign.
After their opening day 2-0 home defeat to West Ham United, the Gunners beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, before a goalless draw at the Emirates against Liverpool.
They added three points to their tally against Newcastle United, with a Fabricio Coloccini own goal enough to give Arsenal the away win.
But where other teams have strengthened their squads in their bid to become Premier League Champions, Arsenal’s only signing of note during the window was goalkeeper Petr Cech from title rivals Chelsea.
Fans took to social media in uproar on #DeadlineDay to express their anger at the lack of spending from Wenger – most were expecting Karim Benzema at the Emirates, before the Frenchman ruled himself out of any transfer activity via a no-nonsense photo he posted on his Twitter account.
No Benzema, no Edinson Cavani. No defenders, no midfielders, no strikers. No good said the fans, especially with a deliciously tempting turnover of £300 million to invest towards achieving silverware.
With Wenger reluctant to sign a single outfield player, striker Olivier Giroud needs to deliver. Players need to stay fit. The defence needs to get its act together. Mesut Ozil needs to stop with the invisible act. Francis Coquelin has huge potential but it’s what if.
Wenger has placed his trust in the squad he already has. His players now need to step up and prove their worth.
There is no denying the talent that lies with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott. But is the defence reliable enough, are the strikers consistent enough?
Away trips to Stamford Bridge and the King Power Stadium will reveal answers and test Wenger’s side in their push for trophies.
Liverpool’s start to the 2015/16 season has been respectable – wins away at Stoke and at home to Bournemouth were swiftly followed with a draw at the Emirates against Arsenal, but then came a 3-0 home defeat to West Ham.
Brendan Rodgers’ team are widely known for showing character. Philippe Coutinho has been in sparkling form, although his reckless challenge during the West Ham United game means he is now seeing out a suspension – ill-timed given the club’s upcoming trip to Old Trafford this weekend.
Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson’s fitness battles also provide unwelcome headaches for the Anfield faithful.
Rodgers strengthened significantly in the summer, and new signings Nathaniel Clyne, Joe Gomez, James Milner, Christian Benteke, Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino have all featured so far, with Benteke opening his league account for the Reds against newly-promoted Bournemouth.
But with so many new faces at Anfield, it’s a period of transition for Liverpool.
Question marks also linger over defender Dejan Lovren’s capabilities after his calamity display against the Hammers, with many fans calling for Mamadou Sakho to play alongside Martin Skrtel against United on Saturday.
If Rodgers can answer that question, along with striking a balance in midfield between creativity and defensively, it’s all to play for. But he needs reliable and regular service to Benteke – and for Benteke to deliver 20+ goals this season.
The headache that is Mario Balotelli has been dealt with accordingly and offloaded swiftly, and with Daniel Sturridge due back from injury, Rodgers will be hoping he can contribute to Liverpool’s goal scoring efforts this season.
Saturday’s game is a huge test for both sides – neither side have played to their capabilities so far, and both will be desperate for the win following their recent defeats.
It’s who bounces back and pushes on, who wants the three points the most. Home advantage hasn’t counted for much this season – and Rodgers will be hoping that continues.
One of the most surprisingly erratic starts to the season has come from the current Champions, Chelsea.
After their opening fixture at home to Swansea ended in a 2-2 draw, defeats at City and at Stamford Bridge against Crystal Palace have compounded the Blues’ misery.
A win at West Brom, with new signing Pedro scoring twice offered signs of improvement, but the defeat to Palace showed that all is not well with Jose Mourinho’s side.
Their manager has tried his best to hide behind self-spun controversies a la Eva-gate, but he has been forced to admit to a certain degree that his Blues are lacking thus far.
Despite his best efforts to prise Everton’s John Stones away from Everton failing, Mourinho did manage to secure the services of defender Papy Djilobodji from French club Nantes.
Pedro and Radamel Falcao are noticeable additions, but is the formidable manager happy with his club’s transfer activity? Is he satisfied or is the simmering tension bubbling behind the scenes again between him and club owner Roman Abramovich?
It’s the players who played such pivotal roles last season who have failed to find that form again so far and have disappointed.
Branislav Ivanovic has been singled out for blame, Eden Hazard has failed to find the wizardry that resulted in awards being bestowed upon him, and poor old John Terry was hauled off for the first time against City before being sent off against West Brom.
The team has been disjointed, the performances wayward.
Cesc Fabregas looks a shadow of his former self, Diego Costa a troubled man. But these are Mourinho’s problems to solve: he is the man paid to motivate and instigate the will to win. The goals need to come, the defence needs to be resolute, the spark must return.
But with tricky fixtures round the corner, including a clash against title rivals Arsenal, and Thibaut Courtois ruled out indefinitely, it remains to be seen if Chelsea can get their title charge back on track.
The quality is there, but how much do the players want it?
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