Don't overplay the importance of star English Premier League players
Even if Rooney, Bale and Suarez all left, their current clubs' ambitions might not be upset
The opening weekend of the English Premier League season might have provided a glimpse of the future for Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool when they all managed to win without players who have been talismanic in past seasons but could move to other clubs before the transfer window closes.
For various reasons, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez were all missing from the starting line-ups for their respective clubs on matchday one, although Rooney did come on in the 62nd minute with United already 2-0 up at Swansea and set up two more goals in the 4-1 win. The assumption, especially with Bale and Suarez, is that the departure of these top-class players would deal a serious blow to the ambitions of their current clubs, but last weekend's results challenged that viewpoint.
Liverpool, for example, have now won five out of six (with one draw) without Suarez in their line-up since the start of last season. Overall, since Suarez joined the club for the 2011-12 season, Liverpool have a win rate of 35 per cent with him in the starting team and 60 per cent without him. Nor do his goals have an overwhelming impact on Liverpool's win chances - fewer than half of their Premier League victories have featured goals by Suarez during his time at the club.
Statistics, of course, do not tell the whole story. There is no doubt Suarez is a top-class player and perhaps his impact would be greater in a better defensive side, as Liverpool have drawn nine out of 24 games in the Premier League when he has scored.
Unlike the ill-disciplined Suarez, Bale has been a near ever-present for Tottenham over the past two seasons, which makes it harder to assess what impact his departure would have. Of the seven league games he has missed since the start of the 2011-12 season, Tottenham have won four, drawn one and lost two, which is hardly conclusive evidence of how well they have coped without him.
But the importance of Bale's goalscoring to Tottenham's results is hard to dispute. Their record when he has started and scored is: won 19, drawn two and lost two at a win rate of 83 per cent. By contrast, when he has played and not scored, or not played at all, Tottenham's win rate more than halves to 38 per cent.
Perhaps the most interesting stats belong to Rooney. Although he has been put in the shade by Robin van Persie, his figures have been excellent whenever he has been called upon by United and it is understandable if he feels aggrieved at his lack of game time. It is also clear how much of an asset he would be for Chelsea if their pursuit of England's best striker is successful.
United have a win rate of 81 per cent with Rooney in the starting line-up since the start of the 2011-12 season, and the figure did not change last season when he started fewer games and was used in more of a support role to Van Persie. The impact of his goals has been high, too - United have won 23 out of 25 when he has started and scored, compared with 17 out of 21 for Van Persie.
Those figures highlight the dangers of reading too much into the presence, or absence, of one player, but they are interesting in the run-up to Monday night's clash between United and Chelsea, the first big showdown of the season, which Rooney seems unlikely to start.
That means Jose Mourinho's planning is likely to revolve around how to stop Van Persie. It is notable that the Dutchman started all of United's matches against other big-six teams last season and, while they took 17 points out of 21 when he scored, they lost all three when he failed to find the net, including a 1-0 win for Chelsea at Old Trafford late last season.
Mourinho had an excellent record in big-six matches in his first stint as Chelsea boss, with just four defeats out of 12 on the road, and it is worth backing his ability to find an answer to the Van Persie problem. Chelsea on the handicap look a decent bet.
Liverpool without Suarez rate the best chance in the Premier League at Aston Villa. Rodgers' side had a good run on the road after Christmas last season, winning five out of seven away to teams outside the big six, including a 2-1 victory at Villa. Suarez played in that match but didn't score.
Liverpool, Ipswich, Leicester, Wigan, Real Sociedad, Wolfsburg, Inter.
10pm unless otherwise stated: Fulham v Arsenal (7.45pm), Everton v West Bromwich Albion, Hull City v Norwich City, Newcastle United v West Ham United, Southampton v Sunderland, Stoke City v Crystal Palace, Aston Villa v Liverpool (00.30am Sun)
Cardiff City v Manchester City (11pm), Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City (11pm)
Manchester United v Chelsea (3am Tue)
1 Liverpool away win Away form much improved under Brendan Rodgers
2 Ipswich home win Stick with Mick McCarthy’s side at home
3 Wigan home win Visitors Middlesbrough have lost 10 out of 12 on the road in 2013
4 Real Sociedad away win Promoted hosts Elche look set to struggle
5 Wolfsburg on handicap Only four defeats out of 20 under Dieter Hecking