Each side has won ugly – taking all the spoils with a late effort – and has also coasted to three points through overawing an opposition. But which has looked the most convincing?
Here is the story of Chelsea, City and United’s seasons so far, and their chances of maintaining the pace throughout the Premier League marathon:
Until Saturday’s 3-0 stroll over Burnley, there were still some unconvinced about Chelsea’s title credentials this term. For much of the second match, Antonio Conte’s Blues were nullified by a well-drilled Watford side and mustered just one shot on target until the Italian’s first substitution after 71 minutes. But then, Chelsea swatted away the Hornets, who were stung by a late Diego Costa winner – repeating his feat against West Ham United five days earlier.
Conte is due plenty of credit for lifting Chelsea’s work rate from the levels of a listless sloth to, well, N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman has been just as he was last season for Leicester City – tireless, and taking great relish in denying the opposition possession – and has enabled his new side to play with great width. And in that expansive system, Willian and Eden Hazard have thrived.
N’Golo Kante’s game by numbers vs. Burnley:
93% pass accuracy
2 successful tackles
2 blocks pic.twitter.com/lUE4QJupPv
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 27, 2016
The concerns are the stark reminders that remain from Jose Mourinho’s eventual sacking last December. A sublime assist for Costa at Watford aside, Cesc Fabregas has mostly warmed the bench since Conte’s hire and you wonder whether the man dubbed the “snake” in the dressing room last season could rehash that role if unsettled. The defence is still in need of recruitment, too, with Gary Cahill and John Terry unable to man the back week-in, week-out.
Signing someone like Kalidou Koulibaly, however, should be enough to sustain a title challenge throughout 2016-17.
Some of Chelsea’s problems were echoed around the halls of the Etihad Campus in 2015-16. Manchester City seemed unable to dictate games as it had in recent campaigns, often adopting the tempo instigated through the dragging, flat feet of Yaya Toure and repeatedly using Jesus Navas‘ predictable, slicing delivery from the right.
Pep Guardiola has already made City a much more dynamic and industrious proposition, able to swarm a rival to win back possession in seconds, and weave patterns of one-touch passes that can stir the likes of West Ham United into a jumble.
But Sunday’s 3-1 defeat of West Ham match epitomised the growing pains that could come with Guardiola’s implemented plan. Popular players have struggled with the new demands, such as Joe Hart and, at times, Pablo Zabaleta, and the rhythmic, pacey play couldn’t be kept up into the second stanza.
That first-half was enough for some viewers, though, and City is currently favourite to take honours with the British bookmakers. Considering how quickly the new ideas are evident on the pitch, those odds are justified.
In the build-up to Marcus Rashford‘s last-ditch winner at Hull City on Saturday, Wayne Rooney skipped inside past Mohamed Elmohamady with ease, before sliding the ball across goal to be gobbled up by the teenager. It’s in this withdrawn, free role that Jose Mourinho hopes the skipper will thrive.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic can compensate for the all-too-sporadic showings of leadership from Rooney as well. The veteran Swede’s supreme confidence and will to win rubs off on those milling around him, and has lifted Old Trafford after two years of being numbed by the sideways passing of the Louis van Gaal tenure.
The world-record acquisition of Paul Pogba has lifted the atmosphere in Stretford as well, and if Marouane Fellaini – backed-up by Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin – can keep up his defensive head, Pogba will be able to establish his all-action style very quickly. His efforts from distance in the 1-0 win on Humberside provided evidence of the freedom Mourinho is handing the Frenchman.
2 – Both Manchester clubs have won their first 3 league games in the same season for only the 2nd time in their history (also 2011/12). Race
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 28, 2016
Considering what’s in reserve – Henrikh Mkhitaryan is being eased into his new club, while the exciting Rashford’s first league outing was when he dragged United over the finishing line in Hull – the Red Devils can sustain a title charge.
The highest ceiling at a club would appear to be at Guardiola’s City, however, with the improvements among certain players and speedy transition into a new era suggesting the team could be sensational come mid-May. City is the thoroughbred in this three-horse race so far.