(Photo Courtesy of Kick Socca)
The English Premier League is the most exciting, unpredictable and best of the top leagues in Europe.
This is a statement that is debated year after year to no resolution. The start to the 2014/15 EPL season, however, provides some of the most compelling evidence in favor of this argument. If someone were to have told me that the top five through five matches would include the likes of Southampton, Aston Villa, and Swansea, I would have thought it highly unlikely. But then to tell me that Liverpool, Manchester United, and Everton would all be wallowing in the bottom half? Lunacy. But that is exactly how the table stands. The EPL never ceases to amaze.
Some clubs have surprised us in ways good and bad, and others have simply met our expectations. Let’s start with the pleasant surprises of the start of the season.
Current position: 2nd
The Saints were rightly expected to struggle this season. They lost a promising manager, an influential captain, a voracious, talented striker, two (!) defensive prodigies, and a talented, recently-acquired center back. They signed relatively unknown replacements with no Premier League experience and relied on youngsters from their academy. And they’re in second. It defies all logic. Well done to Ronald Koeman and their fantastic youth system. Keep an eye on Nathaniel Clyne, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Jay Rodriguez when he returns from injury.
Current Position: 3rd
Villa had a troublesome campaign last year that put enormous pressure on manager Paul Lambert. There were no high profile signings this summer. Yet, even with a difficult schedule, the Villains sit comfortably in third, touting wins at Stoke and Liverpool. They now play Chelsea, City and Everton in the next three weeks. It’s unlikely that they’ll still be in third after this stretch, but they have played well collectively thus far. Key players will continue to be the central three of Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverly.
Current Position: 5th
Is this a surprise? Yes and no. They struggled last season after fantastic campaigns in their first two years in the EPL. With a talented squad returning and a manager that seems to be a good fit, they should have been expected to return to winning ways. Throw in the very good signings of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis, and you have a solid squad. Watch for Sigurdsson and Dyer to continue to link up in the middle. If Bony can get back on form, they’ll be fighting for a Euro League spot for sure.
Current Position: 7th
Leicester are the darlings of the EPL this year, especially after their historic 5-3 win versus Manchester United. Summer signing Leonardo Ulloa has been a revelation, they have a fantastic fan base, and they have the son of a world class goalkeeper between the uprights (and he’s acquitting himself quite well, thank you very much). Oh, and Jamie Vardy is now everyone’s favorite player. It’s difficult not to enjoy the way they’ve gone about their business this year as EPL new boys.
With as many pleasant surprises as we’ve had, there have certainly been a few disappointments to even them out.
Current Position: 11th
I expected a drop in form from what we saw last year, especially losing hero/villain Luis Suarez, but they should be performing at a higher level than they are with the talent they brought in. They’ve lost to Villa (at home) and West Ham, and barely scraped past lowly Ludogorets (who should be everyone’s favorite underdog, on a side note) and Middlesbrough (in a riveting penalty shootout) in their last four matches. Not exactly championship form. Sterling, however, looks like the next big thing.
Current Position: 12th
Wasn’t everyone expecting them to struggle again this season? Why are they a disappointment then? Because they shouldn’t be losing to Leicester /MK Dons and drawing Burnley, especially with their depth of world-class attacking talent. Their schedule has not been particularly difficult, and still they’re wallowing in the bottom half with a defense that plays about as well together as a group of out-of-shape forty-something’s playing footy at their company picnic. It’s not good enough.
Current Position: 14th
Roberto Martinez’s slick-passing side almost broke into the Champion’s League last year. They’ve brought in Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry on full transfers and added Christian Atsu and Samuel Eto’o to their attacking lineup. That means they have a nearly identical squad to last year with a number of young, exciting prospects expected to continue to improve. Their form has been inconsistent, however, and they play Liverpool and United in their next two matches. It could be just what they need to right the ship, or it could put them in more trouble.
Current Position: 20th
With the talent they have, they should not be in the position they are in. Pardew will be gone before December unless they climb into the top half, which is highly unlikely. Dire.
I’m not going to spend much time discussing the teams that are meeting their expectations. Burnley and QPR were expected to struggle. They are. Spurs were predicted to be inconsistent. They are. Chelsea and City were supposed to be vying for the title. If last week’s game was any indication of the season to come, they’ll be the favored contenders come May. Arsenal are playing well but will likely slump at some point, whether it be from the pressure or compounding injuries (or both). If not, they could be fighting for the trophy too. All business as usual.
That said, here is an entirely premature prediction of the top four and the bottom three, based on what we’ve seen so far and what we can reasonably expect.
2. Manchester City
18. West Brom
The last item on the agenda is Champion’s League football. It has been the key argument against the strength of the EPL in the last few years due to the poor performances by English clubs in Europe. This year has not started particularly well. Chelsea drew Schalke at home. City lost away to Bayern. Arsenal lost away to Dortmund. Liverpool won, but on a late goal against a Ludogorets side they should have out-classed. Week one goes to the Bundesliga, though the Italian and Spanish sides performed admirably. I predict a stronger showing for the English sides next week, with hard-fought wins for Chelsea away and City at home to in-form Roma. Arsenal should comfortably deal with Galatasaray. Basel could prove to be another stumbling block for Liverpool, but it’s a great opportunity to get back to winning ways.
In the end, there are 33 more matches for each team. In another month, we’ll have a drastically different table. If it proves to be even half as exciting as the past few weeks have been, we should all be happy viewers. The EPL is shaping up to be the most unpredictable that it’s ever been, and that’s only going to lead to more thrillers, bigger upsets, and increased passion for the beautiful game. Wear your team’s colors proudly, in both the glory of victory and the agony of defeat, because this year is going to be an emotional rollercoaster.
To quote Sir Alex: “Football, bloody hell.”