3. Manchester City
5. West Ham.
Which has you wondering where Liverpool, Man United and Tottenham are, too.
is the prohibitive favorite. Give Jose Mourhino credit -- he fortified an already formidable defensive squad by getting keeps Thibault Courtois back from Athletico (where he was on loan), acquired Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Some of his young midfielders are a year more experienced. Atop that, they probably have more players out on loan than the next two clubs combined, and, if one were to think deeply, I am not convinced that their roster of players out on loan couldn't win the Championship League if not avoid relegation in the EPL.
must have people who know what they are doing. Their manager bolted for Tottenham, where he, like his three predecessors, is struggling. They let Lallana, Lovren and Lambert go to Liverpool and Shaw to United, and have not suffered at all. Lallana is in a pressure cooker, Lambert is closer to the tail end of his career and Shaw showed up at Old Trafford looking, well, doughy. I don't know if the Saints will remain in the top four, but wins before Christmas count as much as wins in April.
. They got a year older, period. Did the World Cup tire out Yaya Toure? Aguero has to be one of the best five players in the world, but there seems to be something missing early on. Yet, last year they played solidly and patiently, stalked Liverpool and overtook them after those Reds had their slight collapse at season's end. They remain dangerous, that's for sure, with great talent. Look for them to be the biggest threat to Chelsea.
The good news is that Arsene Wenger is resourceful and can manage through injuries. The two pieces of bad news is that they seem to suffer more injuries than anyone else. In addition, Wenger didn't populate the roster the way he might have had he been more aggressive. The team needs a defensive mid and a few extra center backs. It's hard to determine whether Danny Welbeck is the answer at striker, although Alexis Sanchez looks to be a great addition at wing. Getting Theo Walcott back will help, and they need everyone else -- particularly Aaron Ramsey -- to stay healthy. That said, they need a few highly rated players to join Mesut Ozil and Sanchez. Look for them to return to Champions League competition for the umpteenth year in a row.
. They aren't the same without Luis Suarez. Who would be? Their defense also is not that good, and perhaps deficient enough to cause them to fail to qualify for champions.
. They'll get it right at some point, but they don't have it right now, and even some dynastic teams in sports have had their down periods. They are in one now and are still figuring it out. They have some talent, but it's not the case that United can just toss a lineup out there and the competition will roll over.
. I thought that with all the moves they made last year they finished okay because they had a bunch of players who had to adjust to the manager and each other. But it seems like they have regressed this year. They have some pieces, not enough to win the EPL, but I thought enough to contend for a space in Champions. That doesn't look to be the case now.
8. West Ham
. Figured I"d make a plug for Sam Allardyce. I thought that the Hammers made some good moves before Transfer Deadline Day, and right now they are paying off.
Based on what I've seen today, I'm thinking that this is how the EPL will finish:
1. Chelsea. Not invincible, but close.
2. City. Too much talent.
3. Arsenal. Arsene Wenger strikes again (this also is a reflection that I think that there is Chelsea and then City and then many other teams).
4. Southampton. Hard to see why the magic will not continue.
5. Liverpool. They'll recover, somehow, to get here.
Dark horse: United, because few have higher expectations, and West Ham, because they are playing with a bounce in their step.