The transfer window has been shut for nearly two weeks and squads across Europe have settled in the absence of offers, counter-offers, and clandestine agreements in the middle of the night. We've already explored how no European football might benefit Liverpool and how rivals' congested fixtures could work to Liverpool's advantage. The stage is now set. The league season is three games old, all English clubs navigated through European qualifying rounds, and the League Cup's third round contestants have been decided.
Successors to The Dark Lord
Despite doubts about David Moyes' capability to continue Manchester United's success story, a title winning squad remains in place. There are no significant departures but a sole addition in the shape of Marouane Fellaini, who will slot into his favoured central midfield slot alongside Michael Carrick and/or Tom Cleverley.
Manchester City remain neighbours who continue to startle those with a penchant for devilish scarlet tops in the early hours of the morning. Manchester City have a new manager in Manuel Pellegrini, complete with more holistic practices, as well as a new-look squad. Seven first-team squad players out, five notable recruits, and £90M down on the balance sheet. Manchester City are ready to tango but is Pellegrini a title-winning manager?
Chelsea have Mourinho back but it appears he will not rule in isolation. The Portuguese trophy hunter returns to an outfit focused on youth. Eto'o and Schwarzer are experienced heads. One knows Mourinho well while the other is experienced in English football. Both should improve the squad. André Schürrle, Marco van Ginkel, and Willian should strengthen a title challenge but Mourinho will need to rotate his attacking players intelligently.
Top four dreamers
Liverpool appear to be in contention with two North London clubs for a place in the top four and despite an excellent start, Brendan Rodgers' side would still be considered outsiders by cautious observers. That is not to denigrate the prospects of a successful season but to temper expectations of a side that is still in its developmental stage under the hands of a promising manager.
Arsenal have the man who has secured Champions League qualification for nearly two decades without interruption. Arsène Wenger may not have conducted the widespread squad bolstering that expectant Gooners would have liked but Özil remains a delicious addition. Flamini's arrival on a freebie could be a canny signing but injuries and a thick forest of games could prove to be Arsenal's undoing.
Tottenham have been so close but so far in recent seasons. Redknapp managed a fourth place finish in 2011-2012 at Chelsea's expense but a Champions League title brought misery and a change of manager. Enter AVB and breaking the 70 point barrier...to no avail. Bale has gone for a world record fee along with Caulker, Dempsey, Parker, and Huddlestone. Plenty of impressive signings have been made by team Levy, Baldini, and AVB. Cohesion, Europe and expectation will be the words hanging over Tottenham this season. Should a top four place be the minimum requirement?
Top six upstarts
Despite a tough set of opening league fixtures, Swansea continue to impress and progress. Last season's League Cup triumph brought European football and greater demands from Michael Laudrup. Senior stars remain at the club, the manager's new contract signed in March was a sign of actual commitment, and the club have made some interesting additions under Huw Jenkins' vigilant eyes. While Swansea's league placing was respectable, only 7 points separated Swansea in ninth and Sunderland in seventeenth. Laudrup will be taking the Europa League a seriously but how will it affect results in the Premier League?
Everton have a new manager who continually escaped relegation with Wigan. Last season, the escape artist shtick didn't take but the FA Cup now glistens on Roberto Martínez's CV. Romelu Lukaku will certainly make a splash but can Barry and McCarthy provide balance in midfield? Maybe youth and experience will aid a successful transition. A new footballing philosophy may take time to implement implement but will defensive solidity be sacrificed for a more expansive approach?
Potential wild cards
West Brom, Fulham, West Ham, Newcastle, and Southampton have either added big signings or kept key performers. Each manager will be under pressure to show tangible signs of progress but could any of these sides make a credible challenge for a top eight finish? Could Cardiff City make a surprise under Malky Mackay or will Mark Hughes rehabilitate his and Stoke's reputation come May?
Managers have to work with what they've got but who can successfully predict the top eight?