jose Mourinho predicted a close Premier League title race and although the Chelsea manager could not have envisaged last season’s champions languishing in the bottom half of the table, he has so far been proved right.
After 14 games, just two points separate Manchester City, Leicester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, with Tottenham on their coat-tails and Liverpool six points off the summit in sixth place.
Twelve months ago, Chelsea had already established a six-point lead over nearest challengers Manchester City with Southampton another four points back in third.
Mourinho said this season’s Premier League would be “more difficult to win than ever” with the booming finances generated by England’s top-flight allowing more teams to be competitive.
After a draw with rock-bottom Aston Villa and a thumping home defeat by Liverpool, Manchester City got back to winning ways against Southampton and are the first of the top four in action on Saturday when they travel to Stoke in a lunchtime kickoff.
City, top on goal difference ahead of Leicester, could welcome back striker Sergio Aguero and goalkeeper Joe Hart from injury for the game at the Britannia Stadium where they have not lost since 2009.
Playmaker David Silva is set for his first start in two months after featuring for over 80 minutes in the 4-1 League Cup quarterfinal win over Championship side Hull on Tuesday.
Leicester, on the back of Jamie Vardy’s record scoring streak, are this season’s gate-crashers and while no-one expects Claudio Ranieri’s side to still be hanging around at the business end of the season, they appear capable of ruffling a few more feathers.
England striker Vardy has the chance to extend his Premier League record of scoring in 11 consecutive games when Leicester head to Wales to face Swansea City (1500) who have won just one of their last 10 in the league.
Third-placed Manchester United host injury-hit West Ham United (1500), Arsenal take on improving Sunderland, who have moved out of the relegation places after two successive wins, and Spurs, unbeaten in the league since the opening day of the season, visit West Bromwich Albion (1500).
Chelsea, 14 points off top spot, take on Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge (1500) with all eyes on whether Mourinho picks striker Diego Costa.
The feisty Spaniard was benched in Sunday’s goalless draw against Spurs and made his frustrations clear when he threw his training bib in the direction of Mourinho and his assistant Steve Holland.
The Portuguese played down suggestions of a breakdown in relations with Costa after the incident which followed a touch-line spat during the Champions League win over Maccabi Tel Aviv.