A traffic cone looks stark in front of a dusty football goal surrounded by trees
19th October 2016 The MALESTROM

Premier League top ten – early season grades

As we come towards the end of October the Premier League table starts to take shape. With another big weekend of games to come – The MALESTROM takes a look at the top ten as it stands, their early season form and what we can expect as the season unfolds.

Manchester City 

It’s been a solid start for Guardiola’s men – and according to former teammate and Everton manager Ronald Koeman, Man City are the “best team he’s ever managed against”. Three weeks ago most pundits and commentators alike would have told you the title is City’s to lose but a resounding defeat against Tottenham and a draw at home to Everton albeit with two missed penalties suggest it may take a little longer for Guardiola to get his message across to his charges. Be sure he’ll complete that task by the season’s end. Top 4 is a guarantee.

Grade: A-

Arsenal 

You have to admire Arsene Wenger – he comes in for so much criticism but the standards and levels of consistency he’s produced at Arsenal throughout his tenure are quite remarkable. After another opening day defeat this time at the hands of Liverpool, Arsenal have done what they always do, win games. It’s been a long time since Wenger has assembled a squad that genuinely looks strong enough to finish on top and this group is the closest in a long while. Strength in depth is the key and Wenger has made some solid looking acquisitions in the most important of areas defence and midfield. They could go very close.

Grade: A-

Tottenham

Champions League football at Wembley could prove disruptive – and it will be interesting to see if the young guns can replicate there outstanding efforts last term. The performance against City was superb, and Pochettino is firmly establishing himself at the top end of the coaching paradigm. The acquisition of the rampaging Wanyama has furthered strengthened an already assured defensive unit, if Kane stays fit after his recent setback it’s hard to see how Spurs won’t be well and truly in the mix. There’s mistakes they can learn from last season and plenty of options in a thicker looking squad. They believe a challenge is on the cards.

Grade: A

Liverpool 

Their attacking play is an A*, but defensive frailties and uncertainty in goal are not what title challenges are built on. Klopp is a convincing personality and an excellent man manager but can he find the balance between his high pressing attacking instinct and the resounding weaknesses at the back. Coutinho, Firmino and Mane look irresistible at times and Henderson is finally emerging from the Steven Gerrard shaped shadow. With Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea away complete without defeat, there’s plenty of reason for optimisim. Lack of European football could prove decisive come May – top 4 is certainly up for grabs.

Grade: B+

Chelsea 

Conte looks to have steadied the ship and his dalliances with a preferred three at the back setup look to be paying dividends. We won’t know until January how happy he is with this squad and the signing of David Luiz was beyond strange. They were blown away by Liverpool and be sure that Conte won’t let that happen again in a hurry. With a bit of patience from the notoriously trigger happy Abramovich then Chelsea have the talent and depth to prosper – another transfer window will sort the wheat from the chaff. No European distractions again will help. Top 4 might just be too much however in this most competitive of seasons.

Grade: B-

Everton 

With the appointment of Ronald Koeman – Everton began the best chance they’ve had in many a year of establishing themselves in the higher echelons of English football after too many false dawns. Their signings look solid if unspectacular, Idrissa Gueye aside who gives new meaning to the word bargain, particularly with today’s pumped up prices and Romelu Lukaku has got the lot. Money’s not a problem anymore however and further work is needed on the squad. The top 6 would represent an outstanding season and might be a bridge too far but don’t put it past Koeman.

Grade: B

Man Utd 

Mourinho’s men will be judged more harshly than most – with millions in the hundreds spent on an array Europe’s best talent a more convincing start to the season was rightly expected. Whispers of Mourinho’s fading talents and dated tactical outlook  abound and appear to have gotten to the man himself. With his heirs to his throne blazing the way, could Mourinho have lost his magic touch. They were our tip for the top come the end of the season but it looks a long way off right now. An insipid display at Anfield wasn’t a complete shock and Mourinho won’t lose much sleep with the park the bus brigade on his back. It’ll probably take time to wheedle out the deadwood and Rooney’s stock has fallen spectacularly. The top 4 looks a challenge, especially with Thursday night games proving a distraction. Surely there squad’s too strong but someone’s got to miss out.

Grade: C

Southampton  

How do they do it down there on the South Coast? Losing a manager every other year and watching on as their top talents pack their bags seeking Champions League football, and yet somehow managing to continue to punch above their weight. Like when Koeman took the helm, not much hope was given, but Claude Puel has quietly gone about his business and Southampton look a top ten bet once again. Have they unearthed another gem, the boards record suggests he might be. Charlie Austin is an out and out goalscorer, Van Dijk looks a class act, and Nathan Redmond must be knocking on the door of Southgate’s squad. A top 8 finish would be an outstanding achievement.

Grade: B+

Crystal Palace  

If Christian Benteke can reach the twenty goal mark – a top ten finish would be guaranteed. His record suggests he can if you play the right way. With Townsend and Zaha providing the ammunition Palace will win more than they lose. Consistency is still an issue for Pardew, he’s suffered it too often in the past and while this team is capable of winning four on the trot, they could record the same in defeats. A relegation scrap looks a long way away however, with a great summer of transfer business. Top ten would represent a reasonable return.

Grade: B

Watford  

Like Southampton a managerial change is always on the cards at Vicarage Road. Strangely at Watford however it seems to be a proactive approach. The current incumbent Walter Mazzari is going about his business with aplomb and Watford look once again like they’ll take some big scalps as the season unfolds. Mazzari is an experienced campaigner in often modest surroundings so this gig should suit him well. Keeping Deeney and Ighalo fit is crucial. What are their hopes? Anywhere from 17th up would surely be considered a success.

Grade: B+