This column received a stream of abuse last Christmas for daring to suggest that Hull City, then flying high in the English Premier League's top four, might finish as low as 11th. In the end, Hull dropped all the way down to 17th place, narrowly avoiding relegation and failing to win any of its last 11 games. Such figures highlight the folly in placing too much emphasis on early-season results in the EPL.
As the new week begins, fans of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City will be strutting their way into work, with chests puffed out, and rejoicing in the magnificent start to the campaign. For them, it is still that wonderful time of year when hope is fresh and abundant and dreams of glory remain unsullied by reality.
But when will reality arrive?
For Tottenham, it probably won't be too long. Harry Redknapp has prepared his team exceptionally for the season, whipping his players into prime shape with a grueling summer workout regimen. But while Spurs have won four straight and sit in second place in the EPL, they do not have the strength to maintain such a challenge. A spot in the top four is well beyond them.
That is no knock on the club. The Premiership is a torrid place to do business, with the Big Four of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and north London rival Arsenal maintaining the status quo. Tottenham would need a miraculous season to even get close to breaking through that glass ceiling, and an even-minded look at Spurs' strengths and weaknesses suggests it is just not going to happen.
Manchester City is a different case altogether.
The remarkable spending bankrolled by the club's Arab owners has put together a tough and deep squad that is well-stocked with talent. Further reinforcements will be purchased in the January transfer window, so the good times finally appear to be here for City.
The title will remain in familiar hands, but – because of the emergence of Man City – one member of the Big Four could find itself on the outside when the precious Champions League spots are doled out at season's end.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't instilled much life into Real Madrid, which was lucky to escape from its first La Liga game of the season with a 3-2 win over Deportivo La Coruna. The Madrid faithful were not especially impressed with Ronaldo despite his giant price tag, and the pressure is on for him to deliver.
2. Get him a beer
It has been a tough time for David Beckham in recent months, but things seem to be falling into place for the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder. Beckham struck the winner against Chivas USA in the L.A. Derby on Saturday night, keeping the Galaxy firmly on course for a spot in the playoffs.
3. Get him some earplugs
As if Arsenal's defeat to Manchester United wasn't bad enough, Arsene Wenger was outrageously forced to stand among United fans for the final 30 seconds of the game at Old Trafford after being sent off by referee Lee Probert. Wonder if the fans had anything to say to him.
4. Keep an eye on …
Trinidad and Tobago. T&T might be effectively dead and buried in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but the arrival of Bobby Zamora and Jlloyd Samuel from England makes them a dangerous potential spoiler. Earlier this month, Zamora and Samuel secured passports to play for the Soca Warriors.
5. Catch a flight to …
Salt Lake City. Rio Tinto Stadium plays host on Saturday to the latest game in the USA's bid to qualify for the World Cup. Bob Bradley's team takes on El Salvador and must win to keep its fate in its own hands.
6. Useless and completely made up statistic of the week
0.5 – The number of private yachts (like Roman Abramovich's) that John Terry can buy with his reported new $60 million-plus Chelsea contract.
7. Fond farewell
Women's Professional Soccer signed off on its first season last weekend with the WPS All-Stars beating Swedish side Umea 4-2. The league made steady progress in year one, but faces big challenges ahead.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukraine striker is set to leave Chelsea and return to his homeland with Dynamo Kiev. He is prepared to sign a two-year contract but is likely to move to MLS with D.C. United after that.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Bryan Namoff. The D.C. United defender is attracting attention in Europe, with two Greek clubs rumored to be interested.
10. Get excited about …
Argentina takes on Brazil this week in a critical South American World Cup qualifier. Brazil is safe, but Diego Maradona's Argentina desperately needs a victory.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Adriana Maldini, wife of AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini.
- Manchester City
- English Premier League
- Tottenham Hotspur