TOUGHER AT THE TOP

Another fascinating weekend in the Premier League and I think one thing is already becoming clear: Nobody is going to run away with the title this season. Liverpool’s win against Manchester United maintains the steady progress they have been making since the turn of the year and, though as an Evertonian it pains me a little to say so, Brendan Rodgers’s team could build on their three straight 1-0 victories and mount a challenge to the Establishment at the top of the pile. United won the title last season at a canter, by 11 points no less, but never looked like a formidable team. I don’t think they are going to have such an easy ride this time.

In fact, unless they get Wayne Rooney fit and firing on all cylinders, David Moyes’s task of trying to fill Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes is going to be even tougher than he and everyone else imagined. United didn’t look like scoring against Chelsea last week and they didn’t threaten much at Liverpool either. Robin Van Persie is a top goal-scorer, but he doesn’t create goals. Rooney does both and it is obvious, on today’s evidence at least, that when Rooney is not playing, United are missing something. Certainly, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge – who has scored their three goals to date – posed just as big a threat as did Van Persie and the encouraging thing for Liverpool is that their most potent forward, Luis Suarez, is yet to join the fray, once he completes his 10-match suspension, going back to last season – and assuming he isn’t transferred on deadline day.

There was a paradox about the big north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham, the clash between the big spenders and the no spenders, with the thrifty Gunners emerging victorious and deservedly so. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has been much criticised for not splashing out in the transfer market and he fielded a lot of flak following the opening-day defeat to Aston Villa. Since then, his team has won four matches on the run and, against a Tottenham team bolstered by ¬£106million poundsworth of recruits, it looked a case of quality against quantity. On this showing, I think Wenger is entitled to claim that Tottenham had no-one who could improve his side. If you like, Wenger’s problem is the complete opposite to that of Spurs manager Andre Villas Boas in that he needs a little more quantity to bolster his squad for the long season ahead. Villas Boas has lost his X factor, namely the finally-departed Gareth Bale, a player who could turn a game on its head with a burst of his pace and power. It remains to be seen if any of Tottenham’s expensive signings can provide that spark now that Gareth has bailed out to Real Madrid. The big question is: Have Spurs bought any game changers? They have certainly lost one in the shape of Bale.

With Suarez back in the team, Liverpool could well join the battle for the top four places. New goalkeeper Mignolet looks a good buy and they have secured the services of the talented Victor Moses on a one-season loan from Chelsea. But I don’t think they will contesting the title come next May. I’m sticking to my prediction that Manchester City will win the big prize, provided they get their base right. City do miss injured captain and centre-back Vincent Kompany and it looks as though they are going to sign a central defender before tomorrow’s deadline. Chelsea won’t lose many matches and United, whose need of a midfielder remains glaringly obvious, will rarely be beaten at Old Trafford. But what separates City from the rest is that they have more magicians in their squad than anyone else. The likes of Toure, Navas, Silva, Fernandinho, Negredo and Aguero should be able to cast a spell on City’s rivals.

One thing I know for sure is that the action so far has got me buzzing with excitement and anticipation for a thrilling Premier League campaign. The swords were being sharpened over the head of Wenger after that home defeat to Villa but it could be that the old fox has lost none of his wiles; the jury on Moyes’s prospects of embellishing Ferguson’s phenomenal work at United remains out; it is still unclear whether Jose Mourinho will be less cautious as returning manager at Chelsea¬†- and the early signs are that Liverpool intend to join the party. Okay, we will miss Gareth Bale. But there is plenty to look forward to this winter. Bring it on.