A family friend who once took me to Arsenal matches when I was younger once said that you can't gauge a feel for a season until you've reached the 10-match mark. In most seasons he was absolutely right, especially given Sir Alex Ferguson-era Man Utd's tendency to launch a Christmas-onwards surge to the title following an indifferent start, over and over again. However, these days, with a late Man Utd surge far less inevitable - as in, a million miles away right now - it does seem easier to make season judgements from what we've seen so far, albeit only five games in. Mainly, Chelsea look ominous, Liverpool and Man Utd look unlikely to compete at the top due to complete defensive inadequacy, while the North London teams look set for another groundhog season of raised then dashed hopes - though hope then dejection has pretty much already taken place at Spurs.
If any of today's sides possess the ability to stay in a title dogfight despite an indifferent start, a la '90s and '00s Utd, then its City. The most experienced side in the league now - in terms of winning the title - still has the strongest spine (especially if Mangala keeps up his impressive start) and still seems to have more (physical at least) 'bulk' compared to their competitors. Yet, that home defeat to Stoke and Yaya's apparent lack of appetite (insert some sort of cake joke) have both raised suspicions that this season could see a repeat of the lethargy and overall repleteness of the 2012/2013 season.
City are certainly amongst the favourites, but Chelsea are looking ominously 2005 right now. It's not so much that they've filled the previous gaps in the team - though Costa and Fabregas are already turning out to be great signings; it's more the fact that the old-school, mid-00s Mourinho mentality seems to have returned, following last season's apparent Madrid hangover. Whereas last season, Mourinho and his side still seemed wounded, lacking some efficiency - especially in those foolish dropped points games against smaller opposition, where both manager and players seemed to lack the spikiness that characterized their bigger match performances - now Chelsea seem clinical, determined, and far more professional.
Fabregas may have struggled to impose himself against City on Sunday, but he has always been able to impose himself on the league in general, while only the league's best defenders look capable of withstanding Costa's physicality. With the flair players already there from previous seasons - Hazard, Oscar - and the squad already loaded with energy and industry, as well as one of the most accomplished defences in European football, Chelsea showed definite acumen in making the finishing touches to the side last summer, with the hope of eradicating the lack of efficiency that cost them last season.
Of course, the title isn't won in September, as one of Chelsea's likely rivals for the title in Arsenal will tell you. Last weekend certainly had that autumnal Arsenal feel, as a rousing 3-0 win against Villa coincided with the dropping of points by all of the Gunners' rivals. Now only 4 points off Chelsea and finally seeming to click, hopes for a title charge have again risen in North London. Yet, already there seems to be an inevitability about their title challenge, in that it will be initially fuelled by an efficiency against the majority of the league, before being subdued by the longstanding vulnerabilities in the heart of the side that were so easily exposed by Dortmund last week. Despite some exciting signings, the failure to fill the obvious and glaring gaps in the side, when compared to Chelsea's exceptionally logical approach to the market, just shows why Arsenal continue to look like the 3rd or 4th best team. It was ever thus.
The same could be said lower in the rankings for Spurs, who continue to look eminently Europa League. At Liverpool things look all 2012/13 again, with some exciting potential but a blunt end product and a dire, if expensive, defence. Man Utd look likely to take Liverpool's place as the league's entertainers, but have to somehow muster something beyond a League 1 quality defence in the next few months, ex nihilo. If they had a defence with half the quality of Leicester's they could fire their way to a title challenge through attack alone. Yet, even despite making some of the most exciting signings in English football history, Ed Woodwood has still managed to look like he literally knows nothing about how the football transfer market works - sure, who needs to replace defenders? Everton, meanwhile, seem to be becoming Wigan at an increasingly rapid pace.
If it wasn't for the feeling that Chelsea just look a lot more professional, composed and intelligent in their all-round approach to the league this year, the season so far would have suggested some exciting times to come. Apart from Chelsea, the top teams, like last season, all look so incomplete, self-parodic and flawed, that another title race where no one seems to want to actually win it, would seem enticingly likely. Yet, unless City retain their hunger, Arsenal find a DM from somewhere, Liverpool a defence and a Suarez, and Man Utd a defender or 5, there is simply no way that Chelsea won't win this.
I hope my old family friend is right, and I'm being too hasty gauging things after just 5 games. Hopefully John Terry is actually massively passed it, Costa is a short burst-of-form striker, and Fabregas' receding hairline is a prelude to his receding quality, but with Jose restoring his own self-confidence and apparent impregnability, these hopes already seem rather forlorn. The only thing that's missing is a deflected Joe Cole goal.Suggest a correction