1. Manchester United
So… all those Man U and Jose Mourinho jokes we got to fire off last season? I’m happy we all appreciated them while we could, because United look like they spent all off-season pinning them on a bulletin board, stewing over them, and coming out for the 2017-18 season with the fire of a thousand suns (and, perhaps more importantly, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic). Lukaku looks like the front-runner for the Golden Boot, Anthony Martial has scored two goals in 24 minutes, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has four assists through two matches, and Paul Pogba is finally beginning to consistently resemble the player who was purchased from Juventus for the price of a small island. Also, they haven’t conceded a goal yet! We’ve seen plenty of early supposed title shoo-ins get lapped by the field, but man, does this team look the part right now.
2. Manchester City
They’re not quite operating with the deadly, mechanical efficiency of their crosstown rivals, but nothing about City’s 1-1 draw with Everton reflected poorly on their title chances. Sure, you’d like to pick up all three points at home, but the Citizens by and large controlled the game, fell victim to some Wayne Rooney magic on a counterattack, had Kyle Walker sent off on a second yellow that was as amusing as it was nonexistent, and still were more or less bossing the game while down a man. Some wonderful finishing from Raheem Sterling saved City from an embarrassing result, and perhaps will convince Pep Guardiola that his best chance at winning the league is not by playing a three-center back lineup. Probably not, though.
Yes, the Blues got embarrassed at home against Burnley on opening weekend. Yes, there’s still all sorts of drama at Stamford Bridge revolving around Diego Costa stewing on a bench (or rather, at some party in Brazil). Yes, they only beat Spurs because of an uncharacteristic error from Hugo Lloris. But hey, they beat Spurs! On the road! And they were down two men against Burnley; that’s pretty fluky! Chelsea are the defending champions, and I sort of feel like people are writing them off too quickly! Stop laughing!
Champions League Contenders
4. Tottenham Hotspur
This isn’t to say that Spurs have looked particularly convincing so far, just that Arsenal and Liverpool have looked even less convincing. And if there’s anything Spurs have succeeded at over the past couple seasons, it’s Looking Slightly Better Than Arsenal. They seem like a good bet to hold onto that title, though it’s tough to see them going toe-to-toe with the Manchester clubs as their roster currently stands. While they controlled the ball for much of the Chelsea match, they didn’t really threaten the goal much at all.
Faced with a desperate Crystal Palace side that By. God. Would. Not. Break., Liverpool eventually managed to breach their defenses and claim all three points after Sadio Mane stumbled through the Palace back line and poked one past Wayne Hennessey. An iffy Liverpool defense didn’t get much of a test (the Reds took 23 shots to just four from the Eagles), but perhaps that’s for the best. Two straight draws against lower-table squads to open the season would have been cause for alarm; as it stands now, there is only Some Alarm in Anfield (we reserve the right to upgrade this to Lots of Alarm at any given moment).
Surprise! Everton make a rare appearance in the realm of the Champions League contenders—not necessarily because they look like Champions League Contenders, but more because I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me, with a straight face, that you think Arsenal would beat Everton right now. Exactly. Also, Wayne Rooney made a pact with the devil.
The Toffees’ draw against Man City was ugly, and they probably blew a chance for three points by resting on their laurels while up a man…but still, there’s nothing wrong with getting a point out of one of the Premier League’s toughest road-trips. A road match against Chelsea this Sunday will provide a good litmus test for what this team’s got—although given this season so far, Chelsea will probably have three men get sent off, one struck by lightning, and one eaten by Wayne Rooney. And the final score 1-1.
Look, this is what I get for writing nice things about Arsenal. I understand that. I’ll save you the trouble of digging it up: after last week’s miracle win against Leicester, I mentioned that the Gunners “showed grit, skill, and might be much better than most had assumed.” Then they lost to Stoke, because of course they did.
I’m still including them in the Champions League category purely because I don’t think there’s a lot of separation between spots 4-7 right now, but this also probably counts as saying a nice thing about Arsenal, so they will inevitably lose to Liverpool by four goals, but Olivier Giroud will look extra handsome while he heads in a goal in the 92nd minute to make the score 1-5.
Europa League Contenders
8. West Bromwich Albion
FEEL THE PULIS. FEAR THE PULIS. West Brom are trying to pull off what Leicester did in 2015/16, but instead of playing fun, counterattacking football, they’re just going to win every game 1-0. Tony Pulis’ lifelong goal is to go undefeated in the league while scoring 38 goals, and he is 5.3% of the way there right now.
For real, though: West Brom are a perfect six-for-six points to start the season, and both wins came against mid-table clubs that were projected just around where the Baggies were. I’d be shocked if they finish ahead of any of the seven teams listed above them, but getting all three points against the “Bottom 13”, so to speak, is the best way to do it.
9. Leicester City
If Leicester hadn’t collapsed against Arsenal in the first game of the season, we’d be talking up the Foxes as a dark horse team to make a top-six run. As it stands, they did indeed collapse, and as such no one is really talking about them at all. Still, don’t turn your back on this team—they entirely dominated Brighton in a 2-0 victory, and while that may not sound impressive on paper…well, yeah, it’s not that impressive. But it’s more than Man City did in Week One!
The Fighting Mooses (Meese?) did their best to show that their season-opening draw against Liverpool was no fluke, earning a decisive win over Bournemouth thanks to the influx of offensive talent they brought in over the summer, namely striker Andre Gray and Brazilian winger Richarlison. Many had Watford pegged as a relegation candidate before the season started, so it’s still difficult to see this team as a genuine Europa League contender. Still, if the season ended today, Watford would qualify for the Champions League. This is a sentence that means absolutely nothing, of course, but is nonetheless joyous to say.
Goodness. The Saints’ game against West Ham was one of the more delightfully silly Premier League matches in a while, as Southampton went up 2-0 with the help of a red card against the Hammers…and then watched Chicharito score two straight goals for a ten-man squad to even up the scoreline…then earned a penalty in stoppage time that Charlie Austin tucked away to give his team a bizarre win. Few would say that they looked to be the better side, but perhaps they were due a bit of good luck after getting stymied against Swansea in Week One.
12. Stoke City
You can never predict when the badger trap that is a road match against Stoke will spring to life, ensnaring a poor top-six club in its jaws, which makes it all the more entertaining when it happens. Arsenal had a ludicrous 79% possession against the Potters, and still managed to come out on the losing end. That is the Stokiest result that ever Stoked in Stoke.
Nonetheless, this squad may yet prove to have some uncharacteristic offensive punch behind on-loan PSG forward Jesé, who scored the decisive goal on Saturday. In the meantime, though, they’ll be taking on West Brom this weekend, and I am currently rushing to put my life savings on that game ending 0-0.
Safe, For Now
13. Huddersfield Town
A cynic’s take: Huddersfield have faced two poor sides thus far, and are still going to struggle to avoid relegation, even with their two wins thus far.
A reasonable take: While the Terriers have shown an impressive amount of punch so far in dispatching of Crystal Palace and Newcastle, their finishing will likely cool off and the team will regress to the mean as the season progresses Still, anything other than relegation is a massive success.
The truth: Huddersfield is winning the league. Book it.
Coming out on the wrong end of a 1-0 loss to West Brom in a game that really could have gone either way is a tough result for Burnley, who were hoping to steal a miracle six points from their opening two fixtures against the Baggies and Chelsea. While the Chelsea win looks fluky now and will probably only look flukier later in the season, it’s a sign of a club that perhaps packs a bit more punch than their lower-end-of-the-table counterparts. Maybe.
15. West Ham United
Poor West Ham. After getting trounced by Man U in week one—a result that looks a tad bit more understandable now that we know that Man U are death robots—they looked the far more dangerous side against Southampton, even after Marko Arnautovic was sent off in the first half, only to lose the game on a brutal Pablo Zabaleta penalty giveaway in stoppage time after Chicharito had evened the score with a brace. Old people giveth, old people taketh away.
The Hammers, plain and simple, have way too much talent to be involved in a relegation battle, but that’s never stopped them before. We’ll keep them above our metaphorical red line, for now.
16. Newcastle United
Dreams of a quick start upon their return to the Premier League have been dashed, as Newcastle have dropped both of their first two matches, including a disappointing loss against fellow newbies in Huddersfield. The lack of results hasn’t been for want of trying—an untimely red card doomed Newcastle against Spurs, and they had more than enough chances to equalize against the Terriers. This seems like a team that will end up clear of the red line when all is said and done, but who knows? They may also be destined to bounce up and down between the Premier League and Championship forever like the world’s most unfortunate yo-yo.
17. AFC Bournemouth
The Cherries have yet to score a goal—against West Brom and Watford, mind you—which is an incredibly unsettling way to start the new season for a team that hoped to be well clear of the bottom three in 2017/18. The sledding gets much more difficult this weekend against Man City; Bournemouth’s best chance may be to pull a Sunderland—unleash Jermain Defoe at the top of the line, close their eyes and hope that everything turns out okay.
18. Swansea City
After their defenses held up reasonably well against Southampton, Swansea once more tried to hold on for dear life against Man U…and it didn’t turn out that badly for about 70 minutes! But once United found a way through, they didn’t stop to think about it. The Swans haven’t resembled the defensively incompetent squad of last season so far, but they also haven’t resembled a team with any semblance of goal-scoring prowess, which seems worse. A fun fact: Swansea have yet to put a shot on target this season. #SwansOnTargetWatch has officially begun.
19. Crystal Palace
The good news: Palace looked much, much better than the team that got wrecked by Huddersfield in their home opener.
The bad news: it didn’t do them much good, as Liverpool eventually broke through their defenses, and the Eagles were left with nothing to show for a gritty performance. Wilfried Zaha’s injury has left Palace a little punch-less going forward, and they now face the terrifying potential of an early-season relegation six-pointer against Swansea.
20. Brighton & Hove Albion
This seems a bit unfair to the Seagulls, who fought valiantly against Manchester City in their opener, and…well, it’s tough to say one fought valiantly when they concede in the first minute, as they did against Leicester, but they traded blows with the Foxes for the better part of a half. No one doubts Brighton’s ability to muddy up a game, but we rightfully have a lot of doubts about their ability to score. In fairness, we’re also saying the same about the three teams in front of them. The 2017/18 relegation battle: thrilling action, as long as you hate goals.