Premier League: The eight C's of the season so far
Almost a quarter of the Premier League season gone. Seldom predictable, never dull, what have the first nine rounds of matches told us about 2016-17 so far?
For all the pre-season forecasts, so much of what we have seen has refused to make much logical sense.
The current table-toppers, Manchester City, are on the longest winless run of their manager's career. The team in second, Arsenal, were a defensive shambles in their opening fixture. The team who have produced the single best display of the season, Tottenham and their 2-0 win over City, aren't currently in the top four.
Manchester United were lauded for their defensive resilience in drawing 0-0 at free-scoring Liverpool. They then lost 4-0 at Chelsea in their next match - against opponents who have also lost 3-0 at Arsenal, the same Arsenal team who only just squeezed past one the promoted teams, Burnley, and were then fortunate not to lose at home to another recent Championship club, Middlesbrough.
One point covers the top five teams. Two points cover the six teams from 11th to 16th. You expect it to be tight after nine games. You just don't expect it to be this tight.
At the same stage a year ago, five points separated first and fifth in the table. In 2014-15 it was nine points.
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For Pep Guardiola, fresh from a league dominated by one team, raised in a league habitually won by one of two, the depth of quality in the Premier League has been no less of a challenge for being expected.
He won his first 10 matches at City, his team transformed, the unheralded and underperforming of last season seeming reborn, the style all swagger and speed. Then came the defeat at Spurs - understandable - but then also points dropped at home to Southampton and Everton.
Spurs, with a more settled coach and more established style of play, were sensational in that win over City but could then only draw against West Brom and Bournemouth. Champions Leicester lost 4-1 at United and 3-0 at Chelsea and then scored three to beat Crystal Palace.
The chaos has stemmed directly from this competitiveness. Thanks to the last television deal, never before have so many smaller teams carried such financial clout.
Palace, whose average home attendance is smaller than 20 other English teams, including seven in the Championship, can spend what could end up being £32m on Christian Benteke; Bournemouth, with an average home gate of less than 12,000, could spend £10m on Benik Afobe, who had never before scored goals above Championship level.
For all that unpredictability, some things remain exactly as they always were.
Sunderland can't win a match in the first part of the season and are once again favourites for relegation. Hull, up for sale for what seems forever, stripped of the manager and key men who won them promotion through the play-offs, are shipping goals and sinking fast.
Swansea and Middlesbrough, 2000-1 to win the title at the start of the season, are second and fourth from bottom respectively.
Southampton, sixth at the end of last season, lie eighth. West Brom, who finished 14th, are currently 13th.
A top four of Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea is hardly a footballing revolution. Much has changed in the Premier League, but much has not.
Even those teams at the top of the table have struggled to nail their selections in these early exchanges.
Antonio Conte at Chelsea, after his initial struggles, has switched to three at the back and appears to be finding a measure of success.
So too Arsene Wenger at Emirates Stadium, where for all the dismay at the lack of top strikers signed, the decision to push Alexis Sanchez up front has not only revitalised Theo Walcott but invigorated the entire team.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, apparently without workable options at left-back, has gambled on the versatility of James Milner and been rewarded.
Guardiola, unsure of how best to utilise Sergio Aguero - leaving him out of the Champions League tie against Barcelona and saying publically that he wants more from his striker - has not.
At Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino has for the first time had to deal with the extended absence of Harry Kane, who barely missed a game over his first two seasons in charge. While Son Heung-min has deputised with some success, £17m summer signing Vincent Janssen is yet to score in the Premier League as Pochettino's side have scored seven fewer goals than City and Liverpool.
Then there is the Wayne Rooney and Manchester United, a long-term relationship in the doldrums, an equation seemingly without an answer. And if it is bad for Rooney, what is it like for £26m Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Bundesliga player of the season last year but substituted at half-time in his only Premier League start thus far?
The Rooney and Mkhitaryan conundrums are only two reasons why Jose Mourinho, such a force of nature in his two spells at Chelsea, appears a man struggling to rekindle his love affair with the Premier League.
His comments this week, describing life in the Lowry Hotel in Manchester as "a bit of a disaster", were either a poor attempt at a diversion from United's uncertain form or a window into a world that was once all ego and ebullience.
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If some of that is understandable - when you've broken the world transfer record but are struggling to find either that player's most advantageous position or best form, give away goals against your former team within the first minute having not touched the ball and have produced your best result in only the EFL Cup - it is no less of a surprise.
In contrast, the similar demeanours of Slaven Bilic, Mike Phelan and David Moyes make complete sense: Bilic, struggling to cope with a team that began in freefall from the lofty heights of last season at a stadium none of their fans appear to want; Phelan, given his first permanent managerial position only to lose his very next game 6-1 at Bournemouth; and Moyes, who talked of relegation before August was out and has looked every inch a self-fulfilling prophecy in the weeks that have followed.
If Spurs have been uncharacteristically un-Spurs like in their defensive resilience - only four goals conceded in the league, seven fewer than Liverpool, eight fewer than a United team managed by a man whose career has been defined by successfully shutting up shop - then their high-tempo style has more than its match at Anfield.
Seldom has there been a symbiosis in recent Premier League history as natural as that between Klopp and Liverpool, a club that demands exciting football, a city that wants to see its own passion reflected in that of its managers.
Liverpool have put four past Arsenal, four past champions Leicester and five past Hull. In three EFL Cup games they have scored 10 times.
Klopp admits his side still have more to do. The defeat at Burnley and stalemate at home to Mourinho's United illustrated quite how much.
He also knows that this team at last feels truly like one of his own. And in a season as open as this, that is enough to make many among his club's supporters rather excited.
|Most shots in the Premier League (inc. blocked efforts)|
|Liverpool - 165|
|Tottenham - 163|
|Southampton - 152|
|Chelsea - 152|
Never before has the English Premier League looked quite so eclectic and, well, un-English.
Bob Bradley's arrival at Swansea as the league's first American coach means that 22 different nations have now produced Premier League managers. Only six of the 18 clubs are now managed by Britons.
You might bemoan that, but results indicate it makes some sense: none of top nine teams at present are managed by a Briton, while four of bottom seven are.
That diverse pattern extends into the playing ranks: 39 nationalities have now scored a Premier League hat-trick; last weekend, players from 12 different countries scored in the division.
No Englishman did. And at Watford, a very English club, their 31-strong first team squad features 22 different nationalities.
If the Premier League has seldom been so open, neither has it ever been so scrutinised and so reactive.
Crises come and go in this era at an unedifying and unrealistic rate: Conte, supposedly in danger of losing his job after the September defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal, now lauded for turning them around and engineering a thumping win over Manchester United; Mourinho, a tactical genius for the 0-0 at Anfield, a man out of control six days later in that 4-0 defeat to Conte.
Guardiola, a genius after winning 10 games in a row, a man lucky to inherit good teams after going winless for six. Wenger, same old same old in that opening-day loss to Liverpool, a wise old bird producing purists' football as Arsenal have risen up the table.
And so it goes on. Leicester in crisis, shipping goals from set-pieces and - well, from all over - in the league, having already lost more games this season than they did in their title campaign, yet with three wins from three matches in the Champions League and just one more win from qualifying for the last 16 at their first attempt.
It's only nine games. It's still October. Let's all take a deep breath. Nothing has been won; only very little has been lost.