By Ray Hamill
There have not been too many surprises in the English Premier League so far this season.
At the top of the table, the list of contenders is pretty much as expected, with Manchester City leading the way, while the chasing pack has provided some early surprises but appears to be settling down.
At the bottom of the standings, Swansea City, West Ham, Crystal Palace and West Brom have all failed to impress and look likely to be mired in a relegation battle for the next few months, while newcomers Huddersfield Town got off to a nice start and for now at least remain clear of the relegation zone..
Likewise with fellow newcomers Brighton, who are managed by the under-rated Chris Hughton and have been a pleasant surprise against some of the big guns, while two of the smallest clubs in the EPL, Watford and Burnley, have been flying high and remain in the top eight in the battle for the coveted European spots, which would be quite an achievement for either.
Meanwhile, Everton, Southampton and Leicester City have all overcome slow starts and appear to be gaining momentum in recent weeks.
The top of the table, however, remains as expected, with just the final order left to debate.
City have been the most impressive of the bunch, unbeaten heading into Sunday’s derby showdown with cross-city rivals Man United.
A win in that game would see the Sky Blues soar to an 11-point lead at the summit, and that just might be too much to overcome for the others, even this early in the campaign.
It’s been a bit of good news/bad news for the rest of the league in recent weeks, with City barely pulling out wins in their past three games. They haven’t been playing as well as earlier in the campaign, but they’ve displayed a championship mentality by finding a way to win these tight contests with late strikes.
United, meanwhile, are definitely improved on last season, when they finished out of the top four, and appear to be City’s most dangerous challengers.
The third of the league’s three big spenders, Chelsea, occupy the third spot and are as dangerous as they were a year ago.
The problem for the Blues of London, however, is that the two Manchester teams are substantially better than they were a year ago.
But Chelsea appears to be the only other realistic contender at this stage.
Rounding out the top four is Liverpool, with Tottenham and Arsenal just a point adrift.
These three may be already out of the title race, but it should be a tantalizing battle for that fourth and final CL spot.
Liverpool possess arguably the most dynamic attack in the league, but their defensive frailties have let the Reds down at the worst times, and that’s going to be a problem over a 38-game campaign.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are, well, very Arsenal. At times dominating, and reliable, but never possessing enough to effectively challenge for the title.
The Gunners’ perennial problem is a lack of consistency over the course of the entire season and they are usually a bad month waiting to happen.
Their London rivals Tottenham, meanwhile, have been the biggest disappointment of the big six.
Spurs have been flying high in Europe, edging out Real Madrid in the Champions League group stages. But they have been dismal recently on English soil, winning just one and dropping four of their previous seven domestic games coming into this weekend.
They bounced back with a 5-1 pummeling of Stoke City on Saturday, but it could be a case of too little too late and their recent struggles have may have already derailed their title challenge.
The big question now is can they get it together to remain in the race for a CL spot.