The bedding in period is well and truly over; the opening fixtures have been cast aside and the first International break is well and truly in the distance and the elite have dug out their passports as they begin their journeys, which they hope will end with glory in Madrid and or Baku.
With the so-called ‘Big Six’ having their fixture lists getting that extra congested for the foreseeable, this period of September to the bitter end in May is where the season is up and running.
The opening fixtures have certainly sprung their usual surprise packages with both Watford and Bournemouth punching above their weight in the opening rounds, so what the expectations for these clubs, it seems that since Leicester took everybody on that incredible adventure in what has been described as the biggest achievement in the history of English football in winning the title in 2016.
Once a side outside of the elite has a positive start, the Leicester comparisons start to re-surface, which in truth, seem a bit far-fetched after four or five games. Listen, it is more than adequate to start dreaming, but maybe those comparisons can be brought out in March/April time when the business end of the season is on the horizon.
It is with great hope that both sides continue with their fantastic starts to the season and hit new heights, but the ‘Big Six’ have spent eye-watering figures of nearly £2 billion since 2016 to ensure that another ‘Leicester’ does not happen again, the coming months will determine and shape their seasons.
The New Boys
The newly promoted sides have fared as well as expected considering the amount of money spent over the summer. Cardiff have looked every bit a promoted side which has been shopping in the own brand aisle. I mean no disrespect to Cardiff, Neil Warnock or Cardiff’s players or supporters in any way shape or form. Far from it actually.
The last time Cardiff were in the Premier League in 2013/14, the sheer amount of transfer activity was outstanding. Mind you, if you compare that to QPR in the season prior, it seems like chicken feed – and not so much in a positive way. Lots of big money signings (for a promoted side) failed to live up to expectations, most notably Andreas Cornelius and Gary Medel, with Peter Odemwingie and Wilfred Zaha not exactly pulling up any trees. It seems that Vincent Tan has learned an expensive if not valuable lesson – and whether Neil Warnock can finally keep a side in the top flight remains to be seen.
Fulham and Wolves have spent big, in a bid to stave off relegation and cement themselves a seasoned player in the Premier League. Wolves over the past decade have found that hard to come by, with one instant relegation in 2003-04 and a three-year stint between 2009-2012.
But now, with the unlikely but very profitable relationship with Jorge Mendes implemented since the Fosun International takeover, Wolves have been taken on to new heights and will be looking up rather than down. Fulham have added some useful additions since promotion to go alongside the quite brilliant prospect Ryan Sessegnon and Play-Off Final hero Tom Cairney. The much sought after Jean Michael Seri has seemingly settled straight into life in the Premier League and how the remaining transfers work out remains to be seen. But in keeping with how the Premier League wage bill reflecting final positions come May, Fulham should have more than enough quality to hold their own and cement themselves as an established Premier League side in the coming years.
The Premier League’s More Experienced
What about the so-called now established Premier League clubs, and whether or not they should be looking over their shoulders? We have seen in previous seasons how clubs who have been flirting with the trap door, have finally fallen through it.
Aston Villa, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea can certainly testify. Just because clubs have survived, it only takes one poor management appointment or an underrated transfer window to pull clubs further down.
Burnley have seen what a truly remarkable season can do for the next season. While the joy and the celebrations last all summer, football has that nasty habit of moving on very quickly, and, as the saying goes, ‘You are only as good as your last result’. Burnley find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, and while there are no suggestions of a full-blown crisis as yet at Turf Moor, reality has come back around like a lightning bolt. It is now time for Sean Dyche to re-group his players after Europa League exit and focus on a third successive season in the top flight.
The usual middle of the road suspects seems to have fallen into place rather quickly with Leicester, Crystal Palace and Southampton currently occupying 11th, 12th and 13th places respectively. With every reverse, Claude Puel’s job comes under much scrutiny, just as it did with Southampton. And in keeping with the Saints, Mark Hughes has a job on his hands to win over a sceptical fanbase regarding his appointment at the back end of last season.
Crystal Palace have started much better than last season under Frank De Boer. Which, in truth, couldn’t have been any easier if they had tried. But the case still remains in what Roy Hodgson does in the likely outcome of an injury to their star player Wilfred Zaha. Now, the stats in the games he hasn’t played does not make great reading, with the Eagles losing every game in which Zaha hasn’t featured. But with the former England manager’s track record of keeping clubs cemented safely in the division, there is every confidence with the Selhurst Park faithful that Hodgson will fly the Eagles to safety for another season.
The ‘Big Six’
So we come to the elite, the cream of the crop, for while relegation is almost unimaginable, the chance of glory certainly isn’t. Manchester City, despite dropping points at Wolves, certainly look the team that everybody has to finish above to win the Premier League title. Pep Guardiola’s men look as though they have never been away, and since those points dropped at Molineux, look as they are back to there supreme best.
Whether pressure from above to really go at the Champions League derails them in their pursuit of becoming the first side since 2009 to win back to back titles remains to be seen, but even in these opening rounds, they look a cut above. Liverpool and Chelsea both still maintain 100% records in their quest to first close the gap – well, the chasm – between themselves and Manchester City. Both sides have started in the perfect manner, with the Champions League and Europa League now factored into the fixture list, time will tell whether both can maintain standards.
After spending most, if not all, the close season moaning and whining about anything and everything, Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United side find themselves already six points off top spot and three points off the Champions League placings. While this isn’t an insurmountable gap to climb, it is still one which now puts the pressure on every match. A serial winner such as Mourinho should have gained enough experience through the years to handle situations such as these. But history shows that Jose Mourinho likes to lead from the front, and ongoing divisions from within himself and the playing squad could put pay to the Red Devils chances before the season has begun.
Will the title and or Champions League remain and return to North London come May? Sticking one’s neck out considerably, it is highly unlikely that the Premier League title will return to North London, but the Champions League placings are well and truly there for the taking for one, if not both of these sides.
But after murmurings and tensions simmering in N17 for the first time under Mauricio Pochettino, and with Unai Emery setting out his vision for Arsenal in his debut season, it isn’t inconceivable that both sides could finish outside the Top Four. Time and tide wait for no man, and with a lack of summer signings because of the new stadium build, Tottenham could find themselves repeating the history of their great rivals and neighbours, for it was Arsenal who found the move into a new stadium rather more taxing than first.
Whatever happens between now and May, it is certainly not going to be for the faint-hearted. One request for the upcoming months is that the chasing pack give Manchester City a run for their money in not having the title race done and dusted before the Christmas decorations are up as happened last season
But with whatever happens – the honeymoon period and bedding in is well and truly over