Six weeks into the season and things are interesting already.
The English Premier League is just that kind of beast – from day one there are highlights, headlines and heaps of ego – but we seem to be settling down into some kind of routine as the match days keep flying by.
Before the season started I categorised the league’s 20 clubs into three likely groupings. Now seems like a good time to check in and see how neatly my predictions are sitting for the time being.
Current top six: Chelsea, Everton, United, City, Spurs, West Brom
(Prediction –City, United, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Newcastle United)
Seemingly the easiest category to fill, the top six in this league is routinely filled by the ‘big’ clubs of the competition.
While Liverpool have slipped out in recent seasons, their cross-town rivals Everton are one of the big surprises so far this year.
With Marouane Fellaini proving a real handful for opposition defenders and David Moyes’ gritty style shining through, the Toffees have won twice at home and twice on the road to outpoint both Manchester clubs to date.
The Red Devils slipped to a 2-3 home loss against Spurs on Saturday, boss Ferguson claiming there wasn’t enough injury time for his side to nick a draw.
Well, Sir Alex… suffer in your jocks, pal. It’s only been 23-years since you’ve had to endure this result, so I’d suggest you suck it up and stop looking for someone outside your squad to blame.
Spurs look to be settling nicely under Portuguese manager Andres Villas-Boas, making the most of a tight spot after a stuttering start to the season.
Belgian centre-half Jan Vertonghen seems to be a great signing for the Lilywhites and with plenty of attacking flair there’s real hope of a Champions League place at the end of the season.
The blue half of Manchester as well as the Blues of London are the only clubs in the top six yet to lose one, but being held to a draw three times already must be a worry for Roberto Mancini, particularly given the offensive superstars he has at his disposal.
At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea are perfect and their weekend win away at Arsenal has them a game clear with a very healthy +8 goal difference.
Their mosquito fleet of Mata, Oscar and Hazard is a far cry from the power days of Didier Drogba and ‘Fat’ Frank Lampard, but all seems rosy down the Kings Road.
West Bromwich Albion are the obvious outliers among this group, helping themselves to 10 points with a game in hand on their immediate rivals (at the time of writing).
They’ve made a great start at home, but as mentioned at the top, if you’re not a ‘big’ club it’s tough to hang with this company and of the current front runners it’s the Baggies who seem likely to tumble out.
The next eight: Arsenal, Fulham, Newcastle, West Ham, Swansea, Stoke, Sunderland, Liverpool
(Prediction – Liverpool, Fulham, Everton, Sunderland, Wigan, Stoke, West Ham, Swansea)
It’s nice seeing Arsenal outside the Champions League places, but whether the situation stays this way for much longer is eminently debatable.
The Gunners have won just twice in their first six outings, but they have started piling on the goals in recent weeks and will need to keep doing the same to pull themselves beyond mid-table.
Dropping a home match to London rivals Chelsea will rankle with players, fans and manager alike and I’m expecting them to kick back in the next couple of weeks.
Fulham and Newcastle are equal with Arsenal, but have totted up their nine points in contrasting styles.
The Cottagers are in feast or famine mode at 3-0-3 while Newcastle have only lost once, but have also been held three times, taking maximum points just twice in six attempts.
There’s very little separating West Ham, Swansea, Stoke and Sunderland, but the Swans have dropped their last three matches and could well keep sliding.
The Hammers and Sunderland both have a game in hand and could possibly make a temporary push towards the top six if results go their way… that said, expect neither to make a lasting impression on the upper echelon if they do reach those dizzying heights.
Under new boss Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool has started in troubling fashion, stumbling to five points and only this weekend collecting their first win of the campaign.
It must be a relief to Rodgers, but he’ll still be under immense pressure from the Kop despite his boys knocking five past struggling Norwich at Carrow Road.
Luis Suarez nailed a hat-trick in the win and only if he can maintain this kind of form will Liverpool lift themselves beyond the mid-table mire.
Bottom six: Aston Villa, Wigan, Southampton, Norwich, Reading, QPR
(Prediction – Southampton, West Brom, QPR, Norwich, Aston Villa, Reading)
The writing is on the wall already. Reading don’t have the class to stay in the top flight and QPR are in real trouble, too.
Both clubs – along with Norwich – look like relegation material, but they still have hope given it’s so early in the season and Southampton, Wigan and Villa are also struggling.
The bottom three are still winless, however, and it’s this troubling inability to claim all three points in any match to date that labels them relegation favourites.
In saying that, it’s still very early days and relegation battles often go down to the final match of the season.
QPR made a couple of quality signings during the summer and Mark Hughes knows how to instil fight in his troops. Signs are that he’ll need to add more quality – and more fight – come January if he expects to stay up.
Southampton suffered at the hands of a nightmare draw early in the year and have a 1-0-5 record to show for it.
They have, however, scored 10 goals so far and as long as they keep putting the ball in the net they’re a real chance to keep their head above water. They just need to keep the ball out of their own net to make the most of it.
Villa still looks like the odd one out in this grouping, but there’s little that has transpired so far this year that makes me think I should review my prediction for the midlands outfit.
They’ve got a chance to set sail on a more pleasing course later today when they host West Brom in what shapes as a midlands derby featuring clubs with sharply contrasting start to the 2012-13 season.
Not a bad start in terms of predictions. Some shuffling in the coming weeks should see the league take on a more familiar look as the cream continues to rise and the success-starved fans of clubs like Spurs, Everton and Newcastle United keep on dreaming of glory.
Both Manchester clubs will be wanting to keep close tabs on Chelsea as the reigning European champions are beginning to make it look like their big night in May may not have been as much of a fluke as we all thought.
Look for the bottom three to bed down during the next month – it just seems like there might be a genuine gulf in class between them and the rest this season.
Of the next group of matches – and if you're looking for a bet – consider bundling wins for Chelsea over Norwich, Everton over Wigan and Spurs over Villa as each looks to maintain their place in the top six.
If it's a smokey you're after, take a nibble at Newcastle to knock off Manchester United in the north east. The Geordies have a good recent ecord against the Red Devils and enough potency in attack to cause problems for the vastly depleted United back four that also has to deal with a Champions League trip to Romania midweek.
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