Before we even get into the swing of things the Premier League is taking a break for European qualifiers. But in the absence of EPL action this weekend it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the early stages of league play. So far, Chelsea can’t be stopped at home, Blackpool are no pushovers, and, in Manchester City’s case, money can’t buy results, at least not initially. This week we saw the European hangover bite Manchester City and Tottenham while Wigan let us know they’re not relegated just yet. As always, feel free to leave your criticisms and submit your own rankings in the comments section. You can follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/Johnbo01 or email me at [email protected]
1. Chelsea (Last week, one)
It wasn’t another 6-0 blowout but Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Stoke City on Saturday was as solid as they come. Stamford Bridge is a fortress and Florent Malouda is fast becoming one of the elite players in the Premier League, having four goals in three games. But for all the accolades being laid on the offense the Chelsea defense, which has gone 679 minutes without conceding a goal, that has been dominant. A cause for concern? Frank Lampard has missed three straight penalty kicks so Didier Drogba take that role from now on.
2. Manchester United (Last week, two)
While Manchester United isn’t wowing anyone with spectacular goals or 6-0 blowouts, Sir Alex’s men are still a strong title contender. Wayne Rooney finally got on the scoresheet and, I never thought I’d say this but, Dimitar Berbatov is one of the most entertaining strikers in the early stages of the campaign.
3. Arsenal (Last week, three)
Welcome to the Premier League, Theo Walcott. The four goals Walcott has scored through three games equals his career high for an entire season but what’s most encouraging is his vastly improved, in-game intelligence. Arsenal are a substantial ways back from Chelsea and Manchester United but are in no real danger of conceding the third spot for now.
4. Manchester City (Last week, four)
To be fair, the Stadium of Light is a difficult place to win but to get zero points against a team like Sunderland does not bode well for Manchester City. Recent departures Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy have blasted Roberto Mancini’s managerial tactics. Loyal City supporters will chalk it up to sour grapes but City needs to start playing up the their potential, and soon. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan expects to win immediatly and the easiest scapegoat is always the manager. They are still have enough talent to beat any team on any given day but when will they start playing like it?
5. Bolton Wanderers (Last week, six)
Three games in and the Wanderers are still unbeaten. The midfield continues to perform well and no one should count on getting points off of Owen Coyle’s side this season.
6. Tottenham Hotspur (Last week, five)
The big concern for Spurs coming into the season was how the Champions League would affect their league form. The early answer is….adversely. The joyous victory over Young Boys, and the field-day headline writers had with it, was quickly forgotten as relegation-favorites Wigan embarrassed them at home.
7. Liverpool (Last week, seven)
A narrow victory over West Brom isn’t the type of thing Liverpool supporters would normally get excited about, but this isn’t a normal season at Anfield. Not only was it the first victory of the season, and a nice rebound from the embarrassment suffered against Manchester City, for Roy Hodgson but Fernando Torres returned to the scoresheet with a goal. Hodgson said the Spanish striker is still a few weeks away from being 100% match fit so things are looking up, if only slightly, in Liverpool.
8. Birmingham City (Last week, nine)
In only their second consecutive season in the Premier League Alex McLeish is unhappy with a win and two draws. Birmingham easily could be near the top of the table with seven points from three games but a late defensive collapse against Bolton keeps them at five. They have to start playing the full 90 but all the predictions of a “sophomore slump” look unfounded and Birmingham are looking dangerous.
9. Aston Villa (Last week, 13)
What to make of Aston Villa? Consistency is not something found in, or anywhere around, Villa Park through the first three games.Villa will use the international break to assess the performance of Kevin MacDonald, who’s case was boosted with a 1-0 victory over Everton this weekend.
10. Newcastle United (Last week, 10)
Andrew who? That’s the question everyone except Magpies supporters were asking when Andrew Carroll scored a hat trick against Aston Villa. Then a vital equalizer against Wolverhampton continued his impressive start to the season. Upcoming fixtures against Blackpool, Stoke and Everton give the newcomers an opportunity to break into the top half of the table.
11. Wolverhampton Wanderers (Last week, 11)
If Wolves had managed to hold on for a victory against Newcastle this weekend it would have been the best start to a Premier League season in their history. They’re not world beaters by any stretch of the imagination but could this be a blessedly uneventful season at Mollineux stadium with no relegation threat? Mick McCarthy certainly hopes so.
12. Fulham (Last week, eight)
Fulham has shown some spirit with two consecutive comeback draws but a draw to Blackpool must be seen as two points dropped. Is anyone else seeing the pattern in Mark Hughes’ teams? Bobby Zamora and Mark Schwarzer returning from injury should give Craven Cottage a boost.
13. Sunderland (Last week, 13)
For all the weaknesses at Sunderland they still possess an elite striker. Darren Bent’s cool penalty upset the high-powered Manchester City in one of the more surprising results of the young season. Up next, they travel to Wigan in a game they really should win.
14. Blackpool (Last week, 17)
A late Fulham equalizer robbed the Tangerines of a thrilling victory in their home Premier Lague debut but Ian Holloway will be happy with the point. Blackpool are not the pushovers everyone pegged them as and their team chemistry is impressive for a club with so many new parts. Their inability to make any real splash in the transfer market could prove costly if injuries strike.
15. Everton (Last week, 12)
One point from three games is not the type of thing that should be associated with a team that beat Chelsea and Manchester United last spring. The Toffees, more than any other EPL side, are most in need of the international break to get their bearings. The funny thing is that Everton have been arguably the better team in all three of their fixtures but have come away with only one point combined. One costly mistake in each instance was the difference between a draw and a win or a loss and a draw. They’re still a powerful side but are having trouble showing up for the occasion.
16. West Bromwich Albion (Last week, 15)
Three points from three game is exactly where West Brom are expected to be. The lack of a real striker will prevent them from ever rising out of a relegation battle but they could survive on the back of nicking a few surprises and holding serve at home.
17. Blackburn Rovers (Last week, 14)
After an opening-weekend victory over Everton, Blackburn have dropped two consecutive matches by one-goal margins. Their prospects were dealt a big blow when the transfer window closed before the club’s sale to Ahsan Ali Syed, who is now in hot water over alleged business infractions, became final. If Syed is successful in buying the club and follows up with his promise of a large transfer budget for Sam Allardyce then Blackburn could be a much stronger side in the second half of the season once the transfer window reopens.
18. Wigan Athletic (Last week, 20)
In what was no doubt the shock of the weekend, Wigan broke their slump by upsetting Tottenham at White Heart Lane. It was a much-needed shot in the arm for Roberto Martinez’s club and should give them confidence ahead of a winnable home matchup against Sunderland. But let’s not forget that this is still the Wigan who scored zero goals and conceded 18 over their previous three games and it will take more than the occasional shocker to rescue their season.
19. Stoke City (Last week, 18)
Stoke, like Everton, have played well in their three matches but zero points is still zero points. At the end of the season no bonuses are awarded for wrongfully-disallowed goals or only losing by two at Samford Bridge. In a Premier League that will axe a manager at the first sign of trouble Tony Pulis might be in danger.
20. West Ham United (Last week, 19)
These are not pleasant times in the east end of London and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It could be October before the Hammers get their first point of the campaign. Even Avrahm Grant think West Ham won’t be able to find their legs until 10-15 games into the season. Horray for confidence!