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Who Will Reign Supreme in EPL?

Every year, billions of spectators from around the world tune in to watch the Barclays Premier League. The opening excitement, the closing suspense, the ups and downs of a legendary club’s journey are all trademark attractions of the world’s most popular sport. But the most underrated experience is the contemplation of the nonsensical league table after the first game. 

After all, how often do you get to see Swansea City ranked second while Liverpool languishes in the relegation zone? Last year’s top four of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur make way for today’s haphazardly concoction of Fulham, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, and Chelsea.

Meanwhile, Arsenal is 11th, Tottenham Hotspur is 14th, and Manchester United is 16th. Soon though, Swansea will slip back into mid-table irrelevancy, Chelsea will have a run for its money up at the top, and Manchester United will probably move above and beyond the battle against relegation.

Last week, the Red Devils signed Premier League top-scorer Robin Van Persie from Arsenal. It was a sign of Manchester United’s financial wherewithal. Rarely does a team that owes hundreds of millions of dollars find nearly 40 million dollars to spend on a player of questionable tactical worth.

Sure, Van Persie almost single-handedly carried Arsenal to third place in the Premier League and scored 30 goals in the process. But goals were never a problem at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney scored 27.

So with Rooney and Javier Hernandez performing well, and Danny Welbeck maturing into a quality striker, how does the 29-year-old, injury-prone Van Persie fit into the equation? Twenty-three-year old Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa was a far more judicious signing.

Kagawa’s deft touch, accurate passing, and goal-scoring ability were instrumental in Borrussia Dortmund’s back-to-back Bundesliga title runs and will provide Manchester United with the midfield backbone missing since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

A new generation of Red Devils led by Kagawa, David de Gea, and Phil Jones ends the argument that noisy neighbor Manchester City is developing a stranglehold on the Premier League. Aside from David Silva, Manchester City has few top quality midfielders. Its squad is heavy on forwards – Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, and Edin Dzeko – but unremarkable in terms of creativity.

This and a lack of high-caliber wing-backs on either side leave Manchester City far from invincible.

After finishing sixth last term, Chelsea has come roaring back to life with convincing wins at home against Reading and away over Wigan. New signee Eden Hazard may turn out to be one of the best players in the Premier League.

Hopefully, the arrival of Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin will help Chelsea lose its negative approach to the game. But with no clear substitute for the departed Didier Drogba, manager Roberto Di Matteo must answer serious questions about who will provide goals.

The team’s only recognized strikers are Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge, neither of whom has a great scoring record.

A few miles to the northeast, Arsenal has yet again lost some of its best players to superior clubs. Van Persie’s departure to Manchester United was followed by Alex Song jumping ship to Barcelona.

Bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur will soon discover the reality of life after Harry Redknapp. New manager Andre Villas Boas has a commitment to attacking soccer, which proved to be his doom at Chelsea. Perhaps he will have more success this season.

Liverpool is the only other top club to undergo a managerial change. Thirty-nine-year old Brendan Rodgers arrives from Swansea City to tackle the increasingly complicated task of bringing Liverpool back to the Champions League.

The club now mostly relies on its ability to sell shirts, which far outshines its performances on the pitch. Standards have slipped to the level that comparisons to England’s top teams are no longer fair.

At the moment, Manchester United is in the best position to win a record 20th Premier League title. Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal will take the remaining Champions League berths, leaving Tottenham Hotspur well placed for Europa League qualification.

But, for now, we can all enjoy the current league table – and hope that Swansea City doesn’t drop too quickly.

Theodore Furchtgott is a RealClearSports soccer columnist. He can be reached at Theodore.Furchtgott@gmail.com.

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