Grading the Premier League's big hitters...so far
The break in Premier League hostilities to accommodate international fixtures was viewed as an inconvenience to many football aficionados, but the biggest show of them all is back this weekend.
Liverpool v Manchester United will the highlight of the latest Premier League matches, but we have seen enough already to make an assessment on the new look set-up at the top seven clubs in England’s top flight.
Here are your sundayworld.com early season ratings, with Manchester United and Chelsea fans unlikely to be content with what they have seen so far.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs turned in the most complete performance of the season as they saw off previously unbeaten Manchester City last weekend, with the stability offered by a manager and set of players that have been working towards a major trophy over the last three years evident in their early season displays.
Tottenham were off the pace in the opening month of the season, but found a way to grind out positive results against Everton, Liverpool and Crystal Palace before moving through the gears and reaching top speed against City.
Verdict: In a season when so many clubs are in transitional mode, Spurs are well placed to cash in and secure another top four finish and the very least. They are also more credible title challengers than Leicester were this time last year and we all know how that story ended.
The speed of evolution for City under their new manager Pep Guardiola has been impressive, with the passing football he has always promoted producing glorious results in wins against Manchester United, Bournemouth and Swansea.
Cracks in their make-up were exposed by Celtic in the Champions League and Tottenham confirmed that the league leaders still have plenty of work to do before they are the finished article.
Verdict: City are not a one-man team, but they have looked far less effective in the absence of the injured Kevin De Bruyne. Their next two games against Everton and Barcelona will represent interesting tests.
Like Tottenham, Liverpool are benefitting from a stable set-up moulded by a top class manager who has been in place for a full year and the impact being made by Jurgen Klopp has fuelled hope of a Premier League title challenge for the Reds.
Their 2-0 defeat at Burnley in August and their woeful first half showing against Swansea last weekend suggests Liverpool are still prone to off-days that may undermine their title hopes.
Verdict: Liverpool are not reliant on one star man to carry their challenge as they were back in 2014, when Luis Suarez pushed them towards a title near miss. Without European commitments, the Reds look well placed to push for top spot this season.
Arsenal have been a B- for as long as anyone can remember and that is why so many of their supporters have become frustrated with life under manager Arsene Wenger.
Their slow start to the season was due, in part, to Wenger's insistence that he gives his players an extended holiday, which ensured they were not ready for the first few weeks of the campaign. Now they are up to speed, they look like top four certainties once again.
Verdict: Their 3-0 win against Chelsea reminded us that Arsenal can be majestic when they are at their best, but you just know one of those infuriatingly limp defeats are just around the corner once again.
Ronald Koeman could not fail to improve on the lamentable effort of his predecessor Roberto Martinez at Everton and he has made his mark in the opening seven games of the season.
Koeman comes with an aura that encourages his players to believe they can reach the heights he scaled in his magnificent playing career and as Everton full-back Seamus Coleman confirmed in recent days, standards have been raised at Goodison Park under the new management regime.
Verdict: Everton are currently sitting fifth in the Premier League and they would be delighted to finish in that position next May.
Jose Mourinho’s start at Manchester United has been pretty uninspiring, with his sullen mood off the field doing little to promote the notion that he is enjoying life in his 'dream' job.
United’s 3-1 defeat at Watford last month was a notable low point, while the 4-1 win against Premier League champions Leicester offered a glimpse of what might be possible if Mourinho finds a balance in a team that is still very much a work in progress.
Verdict: Mourinho claimed United were targeting the Premier League title this season, but too many questions hang over them. He needed a year to build foundations on his return to Chelsea and deliver the top prize in English football in his second season. Repeating that kind of progression should be his aim at United.
Antonio Conte faced the biggest rebuilding task of all the incoming managers to the Premier League’s top clubs last summer and the opening weeks of the season have confirmed as much.
Their woeful defeat at Arsenal was a performance that sent out worrying signals for the future and after Chelsea officials failed to sign any of Conte’s top transfer targets last summer, he has quickly appreciated that he will not be in full control of his own destiny at Stamford Bridge.
Verdict: Conte has inherited a squad in terminal decline and he will need to be given time to turn it around. No manager gets time at Chelsea, so the rumours that he is already close to a Stamford Bridge exit in recent days should come as no surprise.