chelsea are certainly most people's favourites now, after an authoratitive performance at Sunderland yielded a 3-1 win. Those among us who have the capacity to remember anything further back than last week will recall that they were off to a flyer under the doomed Scolari last season aswell, so let's not jump the gun or anything. In fact I'm gonna put down a flag and say chelsea won't win the league this season. Number one, as Ferguson said before the last campaign, their squad is old and that hasn't really been addressed. They have for a long time been hugely reliant on Lampard- he was the only key player of theirs who didn't go missing, literally or figuratively, for a sustained period last season- and this will, as has been noted elsewhere, be a particularly gruelling season with fixtures piled upon fixtures in order to finish early before the World cup. While there are areas which suggest overt improvement on last season- a motivated Drogba, and a fit again Essien (arguably the best midfielder in the league)- the extent to which Ancelotti is going to maximise chelsea's potential with his preferred formation remains a bone of contention, in much the same way Scolari's disregard for width in his midfield selection proved fatal last time around.
On the subject of Ancelotti, I read a short interview with him in Four Four Two magazine that crystallised my conviction that his team will fall short. Ancelloti explicitly stated that he had been appointed to win the European cup, and his record with the Milan pensioners suggests that this is indeed more likely than a Premiership triumph. I expect Essien, Drogba and co to bludgeon their way to that elusive European crown this May.
But back to the league. The reason most will now install chelsea as outright favourites is Man United's unexpected 1-0 reverse at Hull. Not to sound smug, but having seen United's starting line-up before the game, I did say to my brother that I expected the home side to get something. It's amazing what one absence can do. Without Ronaldo, United's midfield, long a potential weakness, is at last being shown up. Park- carrick- Giggs- Anderson is hardly fearsome stuff, and one wonders about Ferguson's decision to leave out Valencia. Even if the winger had started, the Ronaldo factor is hard to ignore. Until Rooney finally makes that small step up that he has threatened for so long, to consistent brilliance, United may suffer for his often erratic form. Now, finally, he is the main man, and with that comes a new and overbearing pressure.
So far, Michael Owen has looked out of place, but it's early for obituaries. He is bereft of confidence, but the inevitable, impending first goal will change that, and he could yet prove a vital figure. And I know it's trite, but one expects if Ferdinand and Vidic were in tandem, the scoreline may well have been reversed.
Nonetheless, there are a multitude of question marks over United at the moment- the goalkeeper situation another one- and this can only be heartening for rivals.
In such a group we must now include city, who have one of the best squads in the league, and Spurs, whose 5-1 humiliation of Hull served notice that they mean business this season. Their hopes parallell those of city in interesting ways. Both will aim for the top four, although Spurs may be more quiet about it. Both have strength in depth that Liverpool and, largely because of a constantly crippling injury list, Arsenal, seem to lack. And, a crucial but oft-overlooked fact, both have no European distractions in a season that could prove prohibitively busy for the traditional top four.