24/12/2014 12:51 GMT | Updated 23/02/2015 05:59 GMT

The Premier League Silly Season Is Over and the Cream Is Coming to the Top

This season was good fun for a while, wasn't it? Aston Villa, Southampton and Swansea in the top four at the same time, Stoke winning away to Manchester City and Manchester United having Moyes flashbacks...

Unfortunately, the last month or so has dragged us back down to earth, a painfully boring top three of Chelsea, City and United. West Ham sitting in fourth throws in something of a curveball, but their next two fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal mean that they're a near certainty to drop out of the Champions League places and could very easily drop down to seventh by the time we enter 2015.

Coupled with Southampton's rapid decline, it's looking more and more like this season's Champions League spots will once again be shared between the current top three, plus Arsenal or Spurs.

It's a fairly good sign, although form can fluctuate, that overall quality and depth will usually come to the fore over the course of a league campaign. As they say, the league table doesn't lie.

The same can be seen in La Liga at the moment, where Real Madrid have recovered from a horrible start to lead Barcelona and last season's champions Atletico Madrid, as the new "big three" begin to dominate.

As much as it's always claimed that anybody can beat anybody in the Premier League, that's never true over the course of a full season. It's part of what makes league competitions so much better in many ways than cups - it's entertainingly open from week to week, while still ensuring that the winning team at the end of the season is almost always the best one.

There are two notable absences from the European picture at the moment though, with both Merseyside clubs sliding headfirst down the table after impressing last season.

The most surprising disappointment of the two has been Everton's dreadful form, given that they strengthened their squad over the summer without losing any of their first team. By rights, the Toffees should be up there with West Ham and Southampton, pushing into the top four as they did last season.

Liverpool's poor start to the season was more understandable, shorn of Luis Suarez after his move to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge after his move to the physio table. The influx of new players over the summer didn't help the transition period, but there are signs that they're ready to get their act together and put up a fight for the top six after Christmas.

The best example of the Premier League's habit of letting quality players rise to the top is Manchester United's recovery, which may well end up being one of the stories of the season if they continue to improve through to May.

Their season started abysmally, a loss to Swansea followed up by draws with Sunderland and Burnley, but since then they've actually matched leaders Chelsea point for point, both sides picking up 30 points since the middle of September.

Their defensive injury and recruitment problems have been well documented, but a side containing Wayne Rooney, Falcao, Robin van Persie, Angel di Maria, David de Gea and Daley Blind is virtually guaranteed to come good sooner or later.

Just as the cream is rising to the top of the table, the bottom of the table is starting to take a fairly predictable shape too. It's always been hard for newly promoted teams to compete at the top table, so it's really no surprise to see QPR, Burnley and Leicester all in the bottom five. Hull and West Bromwich Albion also find themselves staring the drop right in the face, just as they were at the end of last season.

The upcoming transfer window, contrary to the common myth that "there's no value in January", will be vital for teams at the top and bottom of the table. That little injection of class could be the difference between success and failure. Or, at the bottom, between mediocrity and failure. Every little helps.

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