Now that we are ten games into the new season I think this is probably the first time we can analyse the contenders for the title.
Last season’s champions are the only team who remain unbeaten in the League this season. At this stage last season City had nine wins and a draw and were winning in style. This season they have not started with the same vigor. Luckily for City they are still in touch with the leaders. Their neighbours have proved over the years this is far more important than starting at a blistering pace (marathon not a sprint and all that) as this is only the fourth time United have been top after ten games in the Premier League and they have won twelve titles. City showed early title credentials last season and carried the pressure of challenges that had spent big for a long time. After such a great start and with the momentum they had, City knew that not winning the Premier League would have been a massive opportunity wasted. When they lost at Arsenal in April it seemed they had wilted. With nothing to lose they made a late surge and managed to snatch the title in the last-minute of the season. The relief and joy of that dramatic triumph has seemingly left City a little stagnated, like they have already completed their mission by winning the league. No doubt they have missed David Silva and Sergio Agüero being injured has not helped. City fans should hope that these two key players back playing regularly can give City their edge back. On paper City are definitely capable of retaining their crown. Mancini needs to get his stars back, hope his team are not too damaged by another disappointing Champions League campaigne. If City can still be in contention when winter clears they should be re-invigorated with the home straight in sight. My prediction is they will go close but finish as runners-up.
United are the leading scorers this season so far and it does seem that if they are to win the league this season they will do so by having the best attack. When Spurs won 3-2 at Old Trafford in September I thought the game may sum up the season to come for United; plenty of entertainment, goals, good football, but ultimately undermined by a weak central midfield and an unstable back-line. Since that defeat United have responded fantastically, winning at Chelsea and against Arsenal at home. Whilst they enjoyed some luck at Stamford Bridge, they were resolute and held Arsenal in an organised manner that betrayed their defensive record from the start of the season. If their performance against Arsenal becomes a template for how United will play for the rest of the season they will have a good chance of regaining the title. The system of Van Persie leading the line with Valencia and Young coming in from the flanks and Rooney roaming behind the striker worked very well. Ferguson does not carry the pressure his competitors do, he is secure in his legacy. He will emit this to his dressing room and out of tradition United will be there at the end. At the moment I am tipping United to benefit from early Champions League qualification and keep their heads in the title push to collect a 20th crown.
Chelsea have entered into a new era after finally becoming Champions of Europe. Roberto Di Matteo did what none of his predecessors could and brought home the prize Roman Abramovich craved most of all. This should buy Di Matteo some time as long as things don’t totally collapse as the season progresses. Things have changed at Chelsea under Di Matteo; he has implemented the changes Andre Villas Boas tried to force through last season with players who are more suited to the changes. Di Matteo also displays more empathy towards his players in contrast to AVB who can through demanding high standards seem to be a disciplinarian. For a long time Chelsea’s success was based on the qualities Mourinho had built his Chelsea team on. Qualities of physical presence, resilient defending led by John Terry and moving the ball quickly up to Drogba. Drogba, Malouda, Essien, and Kalou have all been dispensed with. Lampard and maybe even now Terry cannot be sure of their place in the big games anymore. This Chelsea play with more fluency as Mata, Oscar and Hazard interchange behind Torres. With this system in its infancy and Di Matteo lacking top-level management experience I see Chelsea having too many off days to finish top of the pile. Di Matteo may have to hope coming third with a decent points tally and a run into the latter stages of the Champions League will mean he gets another season.