LONDON (Reuters) - The Premier League table has returned to familiar type after last season’s delightful anomaly featuring Leicester City, with Manchester City and Chelsea now setting the pace and Manchester United back in the top four.
Between them, those three teams have won the title in 11 out of the past 12 campaigns and are already marked out as favorites to contest the title this time round too.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have an early chance to set the weekend pace with the Friday night visit of Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool, who return to London for the third time in five games after winning at Arsenal and drawing with Tottenham Hotspur.
Stamford Bridge will be the backdrop to an intriguing subplot involving two of the most excitable managers in the league and goals should trigger wild celebrations on the touchline.
On their day, Klopp’s side are a match for the ‘big three’ and arrive on the back of the 4-1 demolition of last season’s champions, Leicester. Although he did not score at Anfield, Daniel Sturridge looked back to his best and produced a stunning assist to set up Sadio Mane.
Not surprisingly, Klopp is looking for more of the same. Asked on Wednesday how they would reach the same high pitch, the German said it was a case of “staying greedy”.
“The movements were brilliant. Daniel was involved in three or four goals. For the first one, it was a brilliant run,” he added.
Liverpool know they must nullify the threat of Diego Costa, who has scored four goals in as many Premier League games, but the Brazilian Oscar has been almost as influential in Chelsea’s strong start.
Statistics released this week by oulala.com show that since being handed a more deep-lying role by Conte, Oscar has made more successful passes and tackles and created more chances than in any of his four previous seasons with the Londoners.
Victory would only put Chelsea top for less than 24 hours should Manchester City, still defending a 100 percent record since Pep Guardiola took the reins, then defeat Bournemouth, a team they have never lost to, at the Etihad on Saturday.
Everton sit just behind Chelsea in third place and will be favorites to pick up another three points against Middlesbrough, particularly now that Romelu Lukaku, who scored a hat-trick against Sunderland on Monday, is back among the goals.
At 35, Everton’s Gareth Barry is expected to become only the third player to play 600 Premier League games, with only Frank Lampard (609) and Ryan Giggs (632) ahead of him.
Leicester will hope their debut Champions League victory in Bruges in midweek will give them impetus to push their way back up the table after a poor start to their title defense as they entertain promoted Burnley.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will be looking for an early response from his players, whom he felt lacked the right mentality to win last week’s Manchester derby.
A trip to Watford, who were buoyed by last week’s stirring comeback win at West Ham United, will test their mettle.
Stoke City’s Mark Hughes and West Bromwich Albion’s Tony Pulis are the managers most in need of wins, against Crystal Palace and West Ham respectively, as early-season pressure begins to build.
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Ian Chadband