Early EPL predictions | Who will win the league and which clubs will finish in the top four?

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Early EPL predictions | Who will win the league and which clubs will finish in the top four?

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Amlan Majumdar

10/02/2016

We are into the seventh gameweek of the season, and although it is still too early to form any conclusive opinion about a team. However, we have seen enough of their glimpses to speculate. Here is where the top six clubs are likely to finish this season.

Manchester City

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A lot of people thought, or hoped, Pep Guardiola would crash and burn in the Premier League. 'Can he do it on a cold night at Stoke?' people had asked often when he dominated Europe with Barcelona. Just into his second Premier League game as the manager, Guardiola saw his Man City side dismantle Stoke City at Stoke-on-Trent. It was an early kick-off and it wasn't exactly cold, but Guardiola's team has thwarted everything the league have had to throw at them, including Jose Mourinho's Manchester United. Of course, tougher tests await them, but at the moment, Man City are head and shoulders above the rest.

They have the best squad depth in the league, which will give Pep the cushion to rotate his squad when the fixture list gets too crammed. When Sergio Aguero got injured, he brought in the youngster Kelechi Iheanacho, and the Nigerian showed that he is more than capable of stepping in and leading his team from the front. A lot of their squad players would walk into the starting lineup of a lot of EPL clubs right now. They have the best collection of fullbacks—Sagna, Clichy, Kolarov, and Zabaleta—in the league. They have the likes of Jesus Navas, and Leroy Sane, in case the likes of David Silva, Raheem Sterling, or Kevin de Bruyne gets injured. Fernando is sitting on the bench ready to replace Fernandinho if Guardiola decides to give the latter a rest. And, not a lot of teams can afford to ignore someone like Yaya Toure in the squad.

Perhaps the only position where they look a bit vulnerable at the moment is the goalkeeper. Claudio Bravo has not had the best of starts to his EPL career after Guardiola unceremoniously kicked Joe Hart out of the squad. While they do have someone like Willy Caballero to cover for the Chilean, City might look to sign a new custodian in the next transfer window. Vincent Kompany's injury has also stretched them a bit at the back, but John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are growing in confidence as a pair. Moreover, Pep's philosophy of ball retention, which in turn results in fewer opportunities for their opponent to create chances, means most of the defensive work is done by the midfield.

With 18 goals in six games so far, Man City also have the best attack, statistically, in the league at the moment. Despite injuries to Aguero, and now Kevin de Bruyne, there seems to be no letting up in their ruthlessness up front. Raheem Sterling has also rediscovered his form under Guardiola and looks like a new player altogether. It is hard to see them finish anywhere but at the top of the table by this season's end.

Prediction: 1st

Arsenal

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After a shaky start against Liverpool, Arsenal have slowly grown into their stride, and they have remained undefeated since that opening day loss at the Emirates. The Gunners dismantled Chelsea in the London derby earlier this month, and if they can maintain anything reminiscent of that form for the rest of the season, very few teams will be able to keep up with them. But, Arsenal have flattered to deceive far too often in recent past and any optimism their current form brings must be gulped down with a pinch of scepticism.

Arsene Wenger has strengthened the core of the team this summer, and the squad depth has significantly improved. Earlier, an injury to someone like Francis Coquelin would have brought up despair among the fans, but now they have someone like Granit Xhaka to cover for him. In fact, Wenger has too many options in the midfield at the moment, despite loaning out Jack Wilshere.

The arrival of Lucas Perez has increased the depth in the attack, but it seems like Wenger is content with Alexis Sanchez leading the line for now. Bringing in one of Olivier Giroud or Perez into the starting lineup would mean dropping one of Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott, and the duo have made sure that does not happen with some dazzling performances. Walcott version 2 is like a new signing for Wenger at the moment, and Arsenal now have the ammunition to tear apart any team on their day.

Shkodran Mustafi is looking like a £35m defender with every passing game, and although there were initial doubts about whether the German and Laurent Koscielny can form a successful partnership given how similar they are to each other, the way the duo handled Diego Costa, who has previously tormented Arsenal, gave renewed hopes about this team's chances this season.

The only issue is that Arsenal does not have a replacement for Sanchez and Ozil in the squad or at least anyone close to their abilities. If Wenger manages to keep the duo fit for most of the season, they won't finish far behind Man City.

Prediction: 2nd

Tottenham

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After the heartbreak of losing the title to Leicester City, Tottenham have picked themselves up, brushed off last season's disappointment, and are looking to mount another title charge. To their credit, they possess the most organized defence in the league at the moment, it is not a surprise that they have kept five clean sheets in their last six matches in all competitions. Wanyama's addition to the midfield has added more protection to the back four, and if they do manage to win the league, it will be based on their solidity at the back.

They have needed this defensive solidity as well so far, given they are scoring too many goals in the league, at least not like their other rivals. 4 of the 10 goals they have scored so far have come against a Stoke City side which is struggling at the bottom of the points table, and add to that Harry Kane, who is suffering from an ankle injury, is unlikely to return to the starting lineup for one more month. Son Heung-Min has taken up the goalscoring responsibilities for now, but Spurs need Kane to fire if they are to harbor any hope of finishing in the top-3. Their squad depth is not as sound as that of Man City or even that of Arsenal, and that is where they might struggle to compete. A lot of their players need to remain fit and being in the Champions League, they have much on their plate to do achieve full-squad fitness.

Prediction: 3rd

Liverpool

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Liverpool are flying high at the moment. They have already beaten Arsenal away from home, they got a good point away to Tottenham, and they decimated Chelsea in a scintillating display at the Stamford Bridge. The 'gegenpressing' is making life difficult for their opponents, while Jurgen Klopp charisma on and off the field is winning a lot of admirers with every passing day. However, there are reasons why people will still think twice before labelling them as title contenders despite such a brilliant start.

The primary of those reasons is the shaky defence at the back. In fact, Liverpool have the weakest defence among the top six clubs who have been named on this list. To make matters worse, Dejan Lovren has picked up an injury in their last match against Swansea. Sakho has not played for the first team since April, when he was suspended following a positive dope test, while Joe Gomez is still recovering from his calf injury. James Milner has been forced to play as a left back this season, and although he has done a good job in that role so far, it is only a matter of time before that is exploited.

However, for all their weakness at the back, Liverpool have been irresistible going forward. Sadio Mane is living up to his 41-million euros prize tag, Philippe Coutinho is churning out performances more consistently and in their 1-2 win away against Swansea yesterday, Liverpool had the luxury of keeping both Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi on the bench.

Klopp's team have a tendency of slipping up in the second half of the season though, as the high-intensity pressing game takes a lot out of the players physically. But their strength and depth in attack should see them finish within the top four this time.

Prediction: 4th

Manchester United

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The arrival of Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rounded up one of the best summer transfer windows Manchester United have had recently. But it has not quite lived up to its billing so far.

Jose Mourinho has struggled to find his best team so far. He struggled to use both Rooney and Pogba in the same lineup, and the United captain was eventually dropped for their record signing. Earlier last month, they had endured three consecutive defeats in a row, and their impressive win over Leicester City, who are also struggling to replicate their form from last season, is sandwiched between two matches where they just about crawled over the line against Northampton and Zorya.

It is clear that Jose Mourinho's United is still 2-3 players short of what the Portuguese manager would ideally want. United will improve, though. As the players get more accustomed to their roles in the squad and begin to adapt to Mourinho's tactics, their performances are sure to improve. However, this season is too early for them to mount a title challenge of any worth.

Prediction: 5th

Chelsea

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Antonio Conte has been desperate to field a three-man defence since his arrival to England, but injuries to John Terry and Kurt Zouma has tied his hands so far. Eventually, he did use his preferred tactic against Hull City in their last game, and the fact that a three-man defence consisting of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, and Gary Cahill kept a clean sheet away from home should show signs of things to come. To add to his injury woes, Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante look a fake replica of their former selves, while Cesc Fabregas has lost his touch completely. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard's return to form have been two of the few positives so far this season for the Blues.

A lot of work needs to be done on this Chelsea team for them to challenge any of their rivals. Return of Terry and Zouma should improve their chance of doing so drastically, but once again, they seem to be too dependent on Hazard at this point of time.

Prediction: 6th

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