The Favourites: The state of play in the Premier League

Predicting the outcome of the Premier League without having opened our advent calendars is pretty gutsy. Last season is a recent, haunting reminder of that. Who would have picked Leicester to lift the Premier League in November last season? Madmen and Gary Lineker, that’s who.

Nailing colours to a mast, backing a horse – whatever you want to call it – predicting anything in sport is destined to make you look like a plank more often than not. It will be, for the most part, looked at retrospectively as a complete error of judgement. One of the best examples of this is the tweet below regarding Charlie Adam’s move to Liverpool a few years back.

Regardless of any potential (near guaranteed) embarrassment, you have to speculate to accumulate, don’t you? And speculation is a pretty fun pastime.

As we seem to hear every few years, this season is destined to be the most open, most exciting, most fun – most everything positive under the sun – title race in living memory. For once, however, the credentials for this season’s battle royale actually look rather good. An influx of excellent, varied managers, relative squad parity and a healthy portion of ‘narrative’ leaves us with a mouth-watering season.

So far, then, we have had a breathtaking start from Manchester City, continued (excluding that Burnley game) attacking brilliance from Liverpool, a stunning rejuvenation from Chelsea and a dire start for Manchester United.

Arsenal have been good, too. The Gunners looked free in the final third with Alexis Sanchez leading the line and are now welcoming back Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey. The signing of Shkodran Mustafi has made the defence look stronger than it has for about a decade. Spurs are still unbeaten, but are blighted by draws and a shortage of creativity and goals from midfield.

The current waves of superlatives are in the red half of Liverpool and blue segment of West London. A dip in form domestically for Manchester City, Arsenal’s consistency and Spurs’ winless run have seen the momentum fall towards Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte. Both teams produced astonishing performances at the weekend, heightening the ‘its their year’ and ‘three at the back solves everything’ narratives respectively.

Spurs’ squad looks stretched, despite summer investment. Harry Kane has returned after an injury, that will have given him some needed rest, but the weight on his shoulders seems to be getting heavier, as his teammates continue to fail to provide in the final third. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have struggled to build up the sort of momentum that made them such a force last year and have dearly missed Toby Alderweireld of late.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Manchester United’s first league win since September against Swansea just about keeps them in contention, yet the level of performances make a top four place look like the ceiling for them this season. Their rivals for the most part of the 1990s and early 2000s, Arsenal, have started stronger than many would have expected after an all too predictable defeat to open the season against Liverpool. Arsene Wenger seems to have found a balance in his team and this season, perhaps more than any other, and the Gunners look the complete article, ready to realistically mount an entire campaign of title challenging.

Manchester City’s quality and Pep Guardiola still loom large over the title race. Even after a run of one win in five Premier League games, Guardiola’s team reside only two points away from the summit, such was the quality of their start to the season. The fitness of Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne is vital, just as key players are to any team. Aguero’s lethal finishing, De Bruyne’s creativity and Guardiola’s ability to manipulate any game in their favour makes it hard to see past City sneaking the crown this season. The performance against Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium shows the inspiring potential this City team have.

A lack of European football makes Liverpool and Chelsea close behind and, if they keep up their current form levels until Christmas, will have changed perceptions. The additional rest is already paying dividends for Klopp and Conte and, if they are to go all the way, could be the difference maker.

Right at this moment in time, Tottenham and Manchester United look like a top four finish would be a success. Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal could fight this title out right into the depths of the spring. Guardiola, Aguero and De Bruyne give the Citizens a minute edge over the others right now, but that is as far as any advantage goes.