Eye On EPL

Mind the gap! Dangerous to let City build big early lead

Manchester City announced the signing of Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne from German side Wolfsburg on a six-year contract on Aug 30, 2015.
Manchester City announced the signing of Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne from German side Wolfsburg on a six-year contract on Aug 30, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

The Cobham Training Ground is the last place any Chelsea players will want to be after a dismal August which has seen them lose half of their opening four English Premier League fixtures.

Mercifully for the likes of Branislav Ivanovic and his team-mates, the first international break of the season could not come at a better time as they flee London, far away from their seething manager Jose Mourinho.

At least the Blues, with just four points and already trailing leaders Manchester City by eight, can take comfort from the fact that they are not the only big club that have been a disappointment so far.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are level on seven points but what they really share is a sense of malaise. They have ghostwalked through their matches and bear little resemblance to being potential league champions.

The transfer window closes today and, if any of these clubs have serious title ambitions, they will need to open their chequebooks and strengthen their squads.

The Citizens are flying, not just in the league but also in the transfer market. When they can spend more than £100 million (S$217 million) on just two players (Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling), who can really keep up with them?

The deficiencies at the Emirates Stadium are obvious. The Gunners have scored just three times - two of them from own-goals - but Arsene Wenger's stubborn refusal to bring in a top striker is both frustrating and familiar.

Further north in England, despite an influx of new players this summer - five for United and seven for Liverpool - there seems little evidence that the rebuilding projects at either club are nearing completion.

United cannot expect Wayne Rooney to score 20-25 league goals and desperately need a proven striker, while the Reds have a squad big on quantity but there are question marks about their quality.

United (1-2 to Swansea) and Liverpool (0-3 to West Ham) have been on the wrong end of humbling defeats to a less-fancied team over the weekend while Arsenal narrowly beat Newcastle 1-0.

It may be still early in the season and these Premiership giants will surely improve, but it is dangerous to allow City to establish such a comfortable lead at the top so soon.

The Citizens are flying, not just in the league but also in the transfer market. When they can spend more than £100 million (S$217 million) on just two players (Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling), who can really keep up with them?

They have such a strong squad, good cover in every position and manager Manuel Pellegrini had a full pre-season to work with his players.

City captain Vincent Kompany has hailed the signing of de Bruyne as a "game-changer" and, even though I have doubts over of his mental fortitude (can he deal with being a squad player?), the Belgian winger can play anywhere up front and gives them another option.

But the big surprise so far has to be the form of minnows Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Swansea - the latter two are the only clubs, besides City, still undefeated in the league.

They all play attractive football and it's nice to see the smaller clubs pushing for the top four positions.

We saw that last year with Southampton who did very well for the first half but could not sustain that form when injuries and suspensions started to expose their small squad.

I expect that will happen again for Palace and Leicester but maybe not for Swansea, who have impressed me the most.

This is the Swans' fifth season in the top flight. They are established, sticking closely to their philosophy of passing football and they go from strength to strength each season.

Their new signing Andre Ayew has been superb. He works hard down the wing and his partnership with striker Bafetimbi Gomis - the pair have scored all seven of the Swans' goals this campaign - has been the key to their success.

For me, Gomis has been outstanding. The Frenchman was signed to replace Wilfried Bony and it took him some time to adjust to English football. But all the defenders are scared of him now.

Look at the way he played against United's backline, he could hold the ball, bring others into play and when he had his chance, he scored.

His confidence, and that of everyone in South Wales, is sky-high at the moment. Unlike that of a moody Portuguese in London.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'Mind the gap! Dangerous to let City build big early lead'. Print Edition | Subscribe