Chelsea, Costa and Sanchez the winners as Stones, United struggle

ESPN FC's Premier League bloggers pick the team, player, flop, goal and moment of the season so far, as well as prediction for the rest of 2016-17.


Team: Chelsea. Antonio Conte is responsible for one of the best tactical switches English football has seen in the move to 3-4-3 and the 12-game winning streak is testament to how much Chelsea have improved since last season. Champions in waiting.
Player: David Luiz. Oh how we laughed when Chelsea brought him back from Paris Saint-Germain, but he has been crucial to the revolution Conte has overseen and the system Chelsea have implemented. Has silenced his critics.
Flop: John Stones. Being benched while Aleksandar Kolarov plays at centre-back is a damning indictment of the error-strewn performances he has put in since moving from Everton.
Goal: Dimitri Payet for West Ham against Middlesbrough, Oct. 1.
Moment: When Bournemouth completed one of the great comebacks from 3-1 down against Liverpool, winning 4-3 in injury time.
Prediction: Arsenal will secure fourth place on the last day of the season. -- Tom Adams


Team: Liverpool may still have work to do to tighten up defensively but their attacking play has been outstanding.
Player: Alexis Sanchez has been superb for Arsenal and could power them to the Premier League title.
Flop: After his high-profile move from Borussia Dortmund, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was tipped for big things at Manchester United but it just hasn't happened, although he's finally started to show signs of life.
Goal: Sanchez's third for Arsenal against West Ham on Dec. 3.
Moment: Nathan Ake's last-minute winner for Bournemouth against Liverpool on Dec. 4 in Eddie Howe's 300th game in charge. It wasn't a particularly impressive goal, but it was another massive moment in Bournemouth's incredible recent history.
Prediction: Jermain Defoe to score more goals this season than Sergio Aguero. -- Will Kent


Team: Chelsea is too obvious so I'll pick out West Brom -- few expected Tony Pulis' side to be in the top half, but there they are.
Player: It's no coincidence that N'Golo Kante has been the most important player in the best team in the league two years in a row.
Flop: Jose Mourinho has not delivered the results and performances expected of him at Manchester United considering his reputation and the vast amount of money spent on new players.
Goal: Jeff Hendrick's sensational volleyed opener for Burnley in their win over Bournemouth on Dec. 10 was a sign of the £10 million buy's talent.
Moment: When Crystal Palace came from 2-0 behind to make it 2-2 at Turf Moor, the visitors looked the likelier side to go on and win the game -- only for a sublime counterattack to be finished off by Ashley Barnes deep in injury-time to snatch all three points for the Clarets.
Prediction: Leicester are going to win the Champions League -- that's not even a prediction, it is definitely happening. -- Jamie Smith


Team: Chelsea. Seems obvious but top of the league with 12 straight wins and counting is impossible to ignore.
Player: Diego Costa. Simultaneously the league's top scorer, the most complete centre-forward and the most reformed character.
Flop: Claudio Bravo. Brought in by Pep Guardiola to much controversy, the Chilean has been a destabilising presence behind an already brittle defence.
Goal: Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace at Hull, Dec. 10.
Moment: Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne missing an open goal against Chelsea and the chance to make it 2-0 only for Costa to level things moments later, paving the way for the Blues to continue their winning run.
Prediction: Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace to finish higher than West Ham. -- Phil Lythell


Team: Liverpool. Their intensity when out of possession is matched by their intensity when in it. While they are susceptible to conceding goals, in possession they are formidable. If they continue on that trajectory they'll be worthy title contenders.
Player: Costa. Rather than the aggressive, bustling centrepiece to Chelsea's forward line, he's become the complete forward.
Flop: Simone Zaza. His performances for West Ham have been languid and lacklustre, and it's likely he'll return to Juventus.
Goal: Payet vs. Middlesbrough. He ran directly through the heart of their midfield and then defence to score a wonderful effort.
Moment: Leicester City beating Manchester City 4-2. Guardiola's men were torn to shreds by Leicester's counterattacking.
Prediction: While Liverpool have been the best team so far, Chelsea appear to have the best manager in Conte. It's likely the title run will go to the wire, with a battle of wits between Klopp and Conte making the headlines. If both continue their early season form, either will be worthy champions. -- Rob Sutherland


Team: Bournemouth. Despite a wafer-thin squad seemingly destined for a relegation scrap, Howe has the Cherries away from immediate danger and playing some excellent football.
Player: Sanchez has contributed 14 goals in 24 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions.
Flop: You would expect Mourinho and over £140m to have Manchester United higher than sixth.
Goal: Steven Defour, Burnley vs. Hull.
Moment: Manchester City appeared unstoppable until De Bruyne's game-changing miss against Chelsea.
Prediction: David Moyes to haul Sunderland to safety. -- Luke O'Farrell


Team: Chelsea. After an indifferent start under Conte, they've been unstoppable. Hard to find a weakness.
Player: Costa. The best striker in the world? Show me a team that wouldn't take him on this form.
Flop: Mkhitaryan. Hardly all his fault but aside from recent promise it's been a forgettable introduction.
Goal: Gaston Ramirez's goal solo effort for Middlesbrough against Bournemouth.
Moment: Bournemouth's 4-3 win over Liverpool after being dead and buried at 3-1 down.
Prediction: Arsenal to finally miss out on the top four and the Champions League. -- Phil Buckingham


Team: Chelsea. Conte has been a revelation at Stamford Bridge.
Player: Aguero. Still can't stop scoring ... if fit.
Flop: Jamie Vardy. Looks a shadow of the player who scored in 11 consecutive games last campaign. A hat trick against Manchester City has proven a false dawn.
Goal: Mkhitaryan vs. Sunderland on Boxing Day.
Moment: Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool. The best comeback and arguably game of the season so far.
Prediction: Chelsea to win the Premier League, Manchester United to sneak into the top four and Leicester to escape relegation by the skin of their teeth. -- Ben Jacobs


Team: Liverpool edge it over Chelsea as they have been the most entertaining side to watch and going into the season they were not expected to be this good.
Player: Adam Lallana has been brilliant but it's impossible to look past Costa at this point.
Flop: It would be easy to say Paul Pogba but if you disregard the ludicrous £89.3m transfer fee, his performances have been quite good. The same cannot be said of the equally overpriced Stones, so it's him.
Goal: Sadio Mane at the Emirates just ahead of Jordan Henderson's winner at Chelsea. Outside of Liverpool, it would be Payet's incredible solo goal against Middlesbrough.
Moment: Mane breaking Everton hearts with a stoppage-time winner in the Merseyside derby.
Prediction: Liverpool to break the record for most goals scored in a Premier League season. -- Dave Usher


Team: Liverpool for being a joy to watch (most of the time) and creating an engaging story so far.
Player: Sanchez, a real team player and a man hitting form at the ideal time for a hopeful Arsenal.
Flop: Moussa Sissoko, the panic buy that everyone thought he would be.
Goal: Alvaro Negredo's well-taken first goal against Leicester City, summing up the all-new and confident Middlesbrough.
Moment: Swansea's fifth goal against Crystal Palace in their incredible 5-4 win.
Prediction: Chelsea to win the league. -- Catherine Wilson


Team: Chelsea, the turnaround from last season is huge and the title is theirs to lose.
Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to come to the Premier League at 35 and score for fun is incredible.
Flop: Stones, he will surely do alright in the end but at £50m, he's made so many costly mistakes.
Goal: Mkhitaryan's "scorpion flick" vs. Sunderland on Boxing Day.
Moment: Manchester City's over-the-top reaction to Ilkay Gundogan's injury.
Prediction: Man United to finish in the top four. -- Scott Patterson


Team: Chelsea have not disappointed under Conte, looking fresh, invigorated and dangerous.
Player: Costa, with the goals flowing freely, he has added assists and calmness to his repertoire and looks more accomplished.
Flop: The Swansea board. From appointments like Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and Garry Monk they are now playing pin the tail on the donkey.
Goal: Mesut Ozil, Arsenal vs. Ludogorets.
Moment: Two: Allardyce leaving the England job and Allardyce finding new work at Crystal Palace. Modern football encapsulated in two easy steps.
Prediction: Chelsea will not win the Premier League. -- Simon Curtis


Team: Chelsea. From 10th place mediocrity last season to a six-point lead at the halfway mark. That's a huge turnaround even for a top-six side with a big budget.
Player: Costa. With his aggression in check he is the league's best pure goal scorer. No other player has as much killer instinct.
Flop: Wilfried Bony. The striker's cold spell at Manchester City was understandable given how rarely he played, but he should be shining for Stoke the way he once did for Swansea.
Goal: Hendrick, Burnley vs. Bournemouth, Dec. 10.
Moment: Swansea's 5-4 win over Crystal Palace, Nov. 26. One of the worst played, and therefore most entertaining, games in recent years.
Prediction: Swansea to narrowly escape relegation. -- Max Hicks


Team: Chelsea. Nobody expected Conte to weave his magic so quickly but the Blues look like they could run away with the title.
Player: Costa. Love him or hate him you cannot argue with his goal record. If he stays fit and focused, Chelsea will take some stopping.
Flop: West Ham loanee Zaza looks like he may never score another goal.
Goal: Mkhitaryan's scorpion kick goal for Manchester United against Sunderland is the best goal Old Trafford has seen in many a year. Who cares he was offside?
Moment: Ibrahimovic describing himself as the God of Manchester. The Premier League needs more characters like him.
Prediction: United to gate-crash the top four at the expense of rivals Manchester City. -- Alex Crook


Team: Chelsea risk becoming likeable if Conte keeps on charming neutrals and his players keep winning.
Player: Costa's abilities have never been in doubt. This season he has not only been on fire but, the odd lapse apart, a reformed character.
Flop: Bravo, for all his top club and international experience, has been gaffe-prone since displacing Joe Hart as Manchester City goalkeeper, raising Sunderland supporters' fears of a bid for Jordan Pickford.
Goal: Payet for West Ham at home to Middlesbrough.
Moment: The final whistle at Bournemouth's tiny ground on Nov. 5, confirming Sunderland's first win of the season and sparking a mini-revival.
Prediction: Moyes to secure at least the six further wins he says are needed to keep Sunderland up. -- Colin Randall


Team: Chelsea. No one can argue with just how impressive they are under Conte, who seems to be getting the best out of his key players to become early contenders for the league title.
Player: Victor Moses. It's nice to see the one-time Stoke loanee given the opportunity to shine and it's one he has grasped with both hands to become a key part of Conte's wing-back system.
Flop: Vardy. It might be unfair to call him a one-season wonder but he'll surely be kicking himself for snubbing a move to Arsenal while his stock was so high.
Goal: Sanchez, Arsenal vs. West Ham, Dec. 3.
Moment: Stoke's 1-1 draw against Manchester United on Oct. 2. It was their first point at Old Trafford in 36 years and arguably the performance that turned their season around.
Prediction: Arsenal to finish outside the top four. -- James Whittaker


Team: Chelsea. They may be the team many love to hate, but you can't argue with a 12-game winning streak.
Player: Many pundits were expecting the Swede to fail in the frenetic pace of the Premier League. Yet while Ibrahimovic often manages to give the impression he is standing around doing next to nothing for long periods, he has the uncanny ability to score goals. The key player in Manchester United's revival.
Flop: Vincent Janssen. Just two goals -- both penalties -- is not exactly what Spurs were looking for as back-up to Harry Kane. He reminds many at White Hart Lane of Roberto Soldado. Enough said.
Goal: Hendrick for Burnley vs. Bournemouth. The midfielder controlled a long ball coming over his right shoulder with the outside of his heel and thrashed home an unstoppable volley from outside the area. Perfect technique and perfect finishing. A qualifier for goal of the year in any season.
Moment: Ake scoring to give Bournemouth a 4-3 win over Liverpool.
Prediction: Chelsea's winning run to be ended when they travel to White Hart on Jan. 4. -- John Crace


Team: Chelsea. The way that Conte has set his side up with three at the back is something that has rarely been seen in the Premier League but they've been fantastic to watch.
Player: Ibrahimovic. I've always been a huge fan of him and was interested to see how he'd fare in England. He certainly hasn't disappointed.
Flop: Stones. He's potentially a fantastic player and should be at the core of the England team for years to come, but for the money spent on him, he's simply not been good enough.
Goal: Sanchez's third goal against West Ham. The dummy he sold Darren Randolph before chipping the ball over him was world class.
Moment: The Manchester derby that City won 2-1. For once the fixture lived up to all the prematch hype, it was one of the best games seen in the Premier League for many years. At that point in the season, City looked like they'd be an unstoppable force.
Prediction: Chelsea and Liverpool to be the top two, and Manchester United to make the top four with Ibrahimovic winning the Golden Boot. -- Matthew Evans


Team: Last season proved that even an owner's millions can't help if the coaching isn't right but under Conte, Chelsea look back to their imperious best.
Player: Costa looks better suited to the system being played by his new manager and for opposing supporters, he's always a player it's fun to hate.
Flop: West Ham's Zaza looks as if he has never kicked a ball professionally in his life; it will be beneficial for all concerned for the loan deal to end as soon as possible.
Goal: In a largely disappointing campaign so far, Payet's sensational individual goal against Middlesbrough even prompted an online poll asking if it was better than Paolo Di Canio's legendary strike against Wimbledon in 2000.
Moment: It's those laugh out loud moments rather than magic and brilliance that entertain the neutral, and the free-for-all chaos that ensued at the end of Manchester City's 3-1 defeat against Chelsea was sparkling entertainment.
Prediction: Leicester to win the Champions League and get relegated. -- Peter Thorne


Team: Chelsea. Back to their ominous best and it's hard to see the title heading anywhere other than Stamford Bridge.
Player: Costa is back to his brutal, relentless self and he's a joy to behold. As long as he isn't lining up against your team ...
Flop: Riyad Mahrez. It was always going to be hard for Leicester to get anywhere near to the heights they hit last season, but Mahrez has been a huge disappointment. From mercurial to anonymous.
Goal: Mkhitaryan's wonder goal on Boxing Day is going to take some beating.
Moment: Watford beating Manchester United 3-1 at Vicarage Road. Fans had been waiting a long time for that. Failing that, it has to be Harry the Hornet getting Big Sam and Zaha all hot under the collar, doesn't it!
Prediction: Chelsea will win the title with no serious challenge mounted by the chasing pack. Manchester United to spring a (relative) surprise and sneak second place. It'll be farewell to Swansea City, Hull and Sunderland. -- Mike Parkin