Premier League: Mixed fortunes for last season's top six

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Chelsea v Man City
Manchester City defeated last season's champions Chelsea during their strong start to the season

Manchester City are setting the pace at the top of the Premier League with a dynamism that demonstrates a serious intent to reclaim their title from champions Chelsea.

The season is in its infancy with only three games gone - but the aims and aspirations of last season's top six will be the same now as they were at this point last season.

As the new campaign starts to settle down, how have they looked so far and what issues will they be looking to address before the transfer window closes on 1 September?

CHELSEA (Position: 10th - after three games last season: 1st)

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho needs to find some inspiration from somewhere to get the champions back in form

Good: Good news is thin on the ground but things are looking up with Sunday's win at West Bromwich Albion, albeit without Chelsea being at their best.

The £21m signing of Pedro from Barcelona is a fine piece of business and the impression remains that Chelsea will only improve as they grow into the season, especially with the possibility of further additions before the transfer deadline.

Bad: Results for a start. Chelsea were top of the table with a 100% record at this stage last season, had introduced £32m striker Diego Costa and scored 11 goals in their first three games.

This season, on top of manager Jose Mourinho's problems with his medical staff and the demotions of Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn when they angered him by coming on to treat Eden Hazard against Swansea City, has been a different tale.

John Stones
John Stones has handed in a transfer request to try to force through a move to Chelsea

Chelsea have been porous at the back, conceding seven goals in their first three games, with Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry looking increasingly vulnerable. Even the midfield defensive wall of Nemanja Matic has not been solid.

Their opponents feel they can be got at - unfamiliar territory for a Mourinho team and one which must be solved.

Transfer 'to do' list: One big, expensive item in the in-tray - namely finding a way of persuading Everton to shift their stance on refusing to sell John Stones.

Chelsea have had three bids, the latest of £30m, rejected out of hand by Everton but Mourinho still wants the 21-year-old England international to be the cornerstone of his defence for the next generation.

Stones has handed in a transfer request but time is running out so Chelsea will need to make their move soon. Everton have been fiercely resistant so far and manager Roberto Martinez will be acutely aware £40m is no use in the bank with little or no time to spend it on reinforcements and replacements. Watch this space...

Did you know? Four points from three games is Chelsea's worst start to a Premier League season since 2000-01 - they also had four points then and went on to finish sixth.

MANCHESTER CITY (Position: 1st - after three games last season: 4th)

Kolarov, Nasri and Silva celebrate
Manchester City have lots to celebrate as the only team with a 100% winning record

Good: Just about everything. No goals conceded, eight scored and a team that looks lean and hungry again after a poor defence of their title last season.

Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure look rejuvenated, while David Silva and Sergio Aguero seem as potent as ever. The addition of Raheem Sterling from Liverpool, albeit at an expensive £49m, has given City an added dimension of width and pace. Ominous.

Bad: The only bad news has been for their title rivals. Flawless so far, especially in tough fixtures at home to Chelsea and away to Everton. Eight goals without reply in their three games and with £32m signing from Valencia Nicolas Otamendi yet to figure in defence.

Transfer 'to do' list: Looks like the last main piece of business will be an attempt to complete a £50m deal for Wolfsburg's Belgium midfielder Kevin de Bruyne - and then it remains to be seen whether manager Manuel Pellegrini wishes to thin out his squad.

Did you know? This is the fourth time Manchester City have started a Premier League season with three wins - the last time they did so was in 2011 and they went on to win the title.

ARSENAL (Position: 9th - after three games last season: 7th)

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger has described his team as being "very average" this season

Good: Recovered from a very poor start when they lost at home to West Ham United to grind out a tough win at Crystal Palace, then earn a point from a thrilling goalless draw at home to Liverpool.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech also bounced back from a nightmare against West Ham to show his class with a virtuoso performance in the draw against Liverpool, an object lesson in why manager Arsene Wenger was so keen to bring him in for £10m from Chelsea.

Alexis Sanchez is still short of full match fitness so there is plenty more to come from him, while Wenger believes this is the season when Mesut Ozil - a £42.4m signing from Real Madrid in 2013 - will unveil the full range of his talents on a consistent basis.

Bad: Yet another injury lay-off with ankle problems for England midfielder Jack Wilshere, a central defence that saw its soft underbelly exposed against Liverpool when Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were ruled out through injury and illness respectively, and a midfield that looks like it may be lightweight against opposition of the highest calibre.

Edinson Cavani
Could Edinson Cavani be swapping Paris for London?

Transfer "to do" list: Arsenal fans are still frustrated by Wenger's lack of activity and two areas stand out where he must surely consider additions, even this late in the day.

Olivier Giroud is a good striker but is he a title-winning one? He falls short of that and, with Danny Welbeck not a natural goalscorer, Wenger must pursue more quality at the top end of the pitch.

It costs, however, and Wenger is always reluctant to pay the biggest money if there is the slightest element of a gamble.

Is it too late to prize a big name like Uruguay's Edinson Cavani from Paris St-Germain or Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli? Or maybe even 33-year-old Sweden international Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Also Wenger needs a powerful, quality defensive midfield player to lessen the load on Francis Coquelin.

Did you know? Arsenal have the lowest shot conversion rate in the top flight so far this term, scoring with just two of their 40 shots (5%).

MANCHESTER UNITED (Position: 4th - after three games last season: 14th)

Wayne Rooney & Michael Carrick
Wayne Rooney and Manchester United have been solid but not spectacular

Good: Solid start without anything spectacular and three clean sheets in the Premier League despite manager Louis van Gaal's decision to leave goalkeeper David De Gea on the sidelines as speculation continues about a move to Real Madrid.

Van Gaal has gone with summer signing Sergio Romero and has been rewarded so far, with a defence that had also been questioned doing the job.

There have been signs of plenty more to come from summer signings Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, while Memphis Depay has shown his match-winning qualities in the Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge.

Bad: Only two goals in three league games - one of those an own goal from Tottenham's Kyle Walker that gave United victory on the opening day of the season.

United have been a colourless side so far this season, although an efficient one. Questions are being asked about Wayne Rooney already - but he usually answers those.

Chelsea's move to sign Pedro despite interest from United was a blow to the ego and pride of club that labels itself as the biggest in the world.

Transfer "to do" list: Manager Louis van Gaal may seem relaxed but he must find a quality striker from somewhere in the coming days with Robin van Persie gone and Javier Hernandez clearly not regarded as a guarantee for the future.

Usual suspects such as Tottenham's Harry Kane (which surely won't happen) and Edinson Cavani have been touted - but can Van Gaal pluck a name out of left field?

And is the situation of keeping the disaffected De Gea in the stands with the apparent expectation of restoring him once the window is closed without any hangover from the speculation realistic or sustainable?

This must be dealt with before the deadline.

Did you know? United have started a top-flight season with three successive clean sheets for only the fifth time - the first since 2005.

TOTTENHAM: (Position: 16th - after three games last season: 6th)

Tottenham Hotspur players
Tottenham have had an awful start to the season and are only two places above the relegation zone

Good: Still waiting on this one. It's been a poor start and even their best 45 minutes of the season, when they went 2-0 up against Stoke City at White Hart Lane, was ruined when they allowed their opponents to come back and earn a draw.

A slow start all-round but coach Mauricio Pochettino is a shrewd operator and he will be confident Spurs will soon be playing the intense pressing game he demands.

Bad: Lack of thrust up front and lack of support for the prolific Harry Kane has been exposed in the first three games and has to be addressed before the transfer window closes.

Transfer "to do" list: Simple. Sign a striker - and most people know who it will be as well.

Spurs have had two offers for West Brom's Saido Berahino rejected, while the player's request to leave The Hawthorns has also been turned down.

There is more to come on this one, which is only to be expected when negotiations are being conducted between Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and his equally tough West Brom counterpart Jeremy Peace, but this does have the appearance of a deal that will be done in time for Berahino to form a strike partnership with his England Under-21 team-mate Kane.

A mouth-watering prospect.

Did you know: Tottenham's Harry Kane has only managed two shots on target in 244 minutes so far. Last season, from his first start in November until the end, he averaged one every 56.5 minutes.

LIVERPOOL (Position: 3rd - after three games last season: 5th)

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers is happy with his team's start, with Liverpool unbeaten in the first three games

Good: Most things - three games and three clean sheets as Liverpool and manager Brendan Rodgers begin the period of rehabilitation and rebuilding after a dreadful end to last season that saw his position questioned.

Christian Benteke has added physical and aerial presence to attack, while James Milner's solid presence has bolstered midfield. In a defence that was vulnerable last season, new full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and youngster Joe Gomez have given Liverpool a more steely look.

And there may be more good things to come if striker Daniel Sturridge can actually get himself fit.

Bad: Not much so far - although Liverpool have been lucky to be the beneficiaries of two poor decisions when Benteke's winner against Bournemouth was clearly offside and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey had a good goal ruled out at Emirates Stadium on Monday.

Transfer "to do" list: Pruning a large squad rather than additions. Mario Balotelli is on his way back to AC Milan and Rodgers may try to find a new home for misfits such as striker Fabio Borini and defender Jose Enrique. Midfielder Lucas Leiva has also been strongly linked with a move away.

Did you know? Like Manchester United, Liverpool have also started a top-tier season with three consecutive clean sheets for the fifth time. The last time was in 2013 - and they finished second that season.


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