Tight at the top, but where is the value in the Premier League this weekend?
Southampton look strong against Chelsea, while Everton rate the best bet in their home match against West Ham United
It is still early days in the English Premier League, but there is the first sign of a breakaway group at the top, with the top five separated by a single point but then a gap of four points back to Everton in sixth.
The cracks in the table could open further this weekend as most of the matches are between teams already separated by a sizeable margin, with Southampton against Chelsea the only meeting of two teams from the top half of the table.
Chelsea looked in danger of losing touch with the pacesetters around a month ago, but they have responded well with three straight league wins, taking them into fourth just a point behind the top three of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Their winning run ended with League Cup defeat at West Ham on Wednesday night, but results in that competition are not a good form guide as the best teams usually change at least half of their players from the regular league line-up.
The switch to a three-man defence has been instrumental in Chelsea’s improvement and it will be interesting to see how they fare against Southampton, who won their cup tie in midweek and are now unbeaten in seven games in domestic competition.
Overall the Saints have lost only two league matches under new manager Claude Puel and both were away against high-class teams in Arsenal and Manchester United.
Saving the best till last, but will Chelsea and Manchester United live up to their top billing and avoid another bore draw?
A Chelsea win would be a significant marker, but the odds seem to underestimate Southampton and the hosts are the handicap pick.
Set-pieces are one area where Chelsea might have problems, with two of that three-man defence in David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta looking vulnerable to aerial attack and Southampton’s central defenders Virgil Van Dijk and Jose Fonte always dangerous when they come forward.
Arsenal away to bottom club Sunderland and Manchester City away to West Bromwich Albion should prove bankers, but it is more questionable whether Tottenham Hotspur at home to Leicester City and Liverpool away to Crystal Palace are safe bets at short odds.
Tottenham’s principal weakness is that they can struggle to impose themselves at White Hart Lane as last season they ranked second on away form but only fifth at home and Leicester will continue to pose danger to any opponent even if they lack the consistency that took them to the title last season.
Palace are another dangerous team and any side with good goalscoring potential is going to have a chance against Liverpool’s high-risk attacking strategy.
Alan Pardew’s team fit that profile and their ability to strike quickly on the counterattack should help them against Liverpool and this looks likely to be one of the most entertaining matches of the weekend.
If there are any slip-ups from the top five teams, the others hoping to challenge for silverware and European qualification places will be keen to make up lost ground.
The next two weeks are crucial, with another international break on the horizon, and back-to-back wins could put a different complexion on any team’s prospects.
Everton rate the best bet this weekend in their home match against West Ham United as Ronald Koeman’s side have gone four games without a win, with the biggest setbacks being away defeats against Bournemouth and Burnley, but they still have a progressive profile.
Their home form is solid and they are scoring goals with only one shutout in the first nine matches, with Romelu Lukaku looking a more consistently dangerous leader of the attack.
West Ham, who were expected to be a top eight side, are worthy of renewed respect after shrugging off their poor start to the season by going four games without defeat - three in the league and then that midweek cup win over Chelsea - but Everton still look decent value.
Manchester United are six points off the pace in seventh place and their up-and-down season continued on Wednesday with a morale-boosting cup win over neighbours Manchester City.
Needle in a haystack: value hard to come by as unpredictable Premier League creates more questions than answers
Their last 10 results against opponents from the Premier League and Europa League are LLLWWDDWLW and some consistency is required quickly if they are to stay in title contention.
Manager Jose Mourinho has been suggesting that the form pendulum would swing once United met easier opponents, which means anything less than six points against Burnley on Saturday and Swansea City next week would have to be classed as failure.
One major issue for Mourinho is the make-up of his attack as Wayne Rooney has been dropped, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals have dried up and the manager seems reluctant to put his trust in the youngsters Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
Playing a couple of easier opponents may help to restore some confidence in that area.
Watford, Huddersfield, Villarreal.
Everton home win
Best bet of the weekend in the Premier League
Aston Villa on handicap
Already improving under Steve Bruce
Leverkusen on handicap
Only one really poor result this season
Juventus home win
Perfect record in 21 home league games in past 12 months
Torino on handicap
Unbeaten against bottom half opposition
Premier League teams without a clean sheet: Crystal Palace and Sunderland