After one of the wildest weekends in the history of the Premier League, this might be a season that defies prediction. Anyone who wagered that Manchester United would lose 6-1 at home to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool fall 7-2 at Aston Villa a few hours later would be as rich as Lionel Messi.
So, sifting through some conflicting evidence, here are my club-by-club first impressions through the opening weeks of the 2020-21 season.
Arsenal: Mikel Arteta has changed the mood music, already delivered two pieces of silverware and persuaded Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to stay. The Gunners continue to show more steel and grit. The top four is not out of the question, especially now that the experienced Thomas Partey has arrived for £45 million from Atletico Madrid to bolster the midfield.
Aston Villa: The sensational 7-2 win over the champions last weekend confirmed a newfound confidence and belief. The defence has improved greatly and the additions of Ollie Watkins and Ross Barkley take the creative pressure off Jack Grealish. There’s a top-half finish in their sights.
Brighton & Hove Albion: They have played better than a return of only three points might suggest, and their fixtures have been tough. The dedication to play attractive, passing football sometimes leads to them overplaying, and manager Graham Potter will worry about how they’re conceding more easily these days.
Burnley: Beset by injuries and without a point so far, manager Sean Dyche has made it clear he is not exactly seeing eye to eye with the board. As long as he’s in charge, my hunch is they will steer clear of relegation once key men return.
Chelsea: They’re a work In progress as they bed in £250m worth of new talent. They will destroy a few teams, but that 3-3 draw at West Bromwich Albion confirmed they are still fragile at the back. The sky is the limit if Thiago Silva can sort out that problem.
Crystal Palace: Two wins followed by two defeats, Palace are a handful on their day — as Manchester United discovered — and they have enough quality to keep their heads well above water.
Everton: Their best start to a league season since 1969-70, when they won the title. James Rodriguez has sprinkled some stardust on Goodison Park and Dominic Calvert-Lewin has nine goals in six games across all competitions. Carlo Ancelotti can lead this team back into Europe, and they may even challenge for the top four.
Fulham: Simply do not look good enough, leaking goals at every turn. Scott Parker will have performed wonders if he keeps them up.
Leeds United: It is great to have this big club back in the top flight. Marcelo Bielsa’s turbocharged team have ruffled the feathers of Liverpool and Manchester City already and provided real entertainment in doing so. Easily good enough to stay up, the only question is whether they run out of gas a little.
Leicester City: That 3-0 home defeat to West Ham United was a reality check after the 5-2 thumping of Manchester City. Often easy on the eye but prone to flat patches, the Foxes are top-six contenders again.
Liverpool: Nobody saw that seven-goal mauling at Villa coming, least of all Jurgen Klopp, a display that raises suspicions that the defence has become shaky. They still look to be favourites to retain their crown, but now there is less certainty.
Manchester City: With the purchase of Ruben Dias, they’ve now bought nine of the 20 most expensive defenders in history, but Leicester put five past them and Leeds created plenty of chances. For all their brilliance in other areas, it is hard to see them reclaiming the title unless they tighten up at the back.
Manchester United: A shambolic start on and off the pitch. The defence is a mess, and you must wonder if Harry Maguire‘s court case in Greece is affecting his form. The club should have been pursuing a top defender rather than Jadon Sancho and Edinson Cavani. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs results fast.
Newcastle United: Apart from a couple of poor displays against Brighton and Spurs, Steve Bruce’s team look lively and Callum Wilson has clearly rediscovered the zest that won him England recognition. Top-half possibilities beckon.
Southampton: Looked undercooked at the start of the season, but Saints are starting to fire now. Danny Ings has to stay fit for them to flourish. That high-line defence is open to exploitation if teams can beat their high press, as Spurs demonstrated.
Sheffield United: Are they suffering from second-season syndrome? Manager Chris Wilder says no. They must hope the signing of young striker Rhian Brewster from Liverpool improves their goal return. Looks like a difficult year ahead, though there may be three worse teams.
Tottenham Hotspur: Started with a shocking display against Everton, but Spurs have been in wonderful form since, despite the crowded schedule. Gareth Bale might give them even more. Is this the big comeback year for Jose Mourinho?
West Bromwich Albion: Despite a bold showing in that 3-3 draw with Chelsea, they do not look to have enough quality to stay up. Certainly need to produce more than they did at Southampton on Sunday.
West Ham United: The groans of the fans have been silenced by two terrific wins over Wolves and Leicester, all directed by David Moyes while self-isolating at home. Michail Antonio is too hot to handle for many defenders right now. They could be a surprise package this season.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Put in a worrying display in the 4-0 reverse at West Ham recently, looking a little flat and jaded after two excellent years. More drive is needed from central midfield.