We are only a quarter of the way through the Premier League season and it is already proving to be one of the most intriguing contests in many years. There has been drama, upset and surprises in abundance and predicting the outcome has become a more daunting task than usual.
So where will this compelling journey lead us? Will we arrive in May with the usual suspects back at the top, as the league inevitably returns to predictable normality over the course of the season? Or will we continue to be shocked and surprised, as the script continues to be torn up and re-written by a new crop of pretenders.
With the way things have gone so far, it is hard to imagine that there will not be a few more surprises this season, so let’s take a bold look at how things might pan out when the dust settles come May.
It seems strange to think of the current leaders Arsenal, as new challengers for the title, but Arsene Wenger’s side have not won the title for ten years and they have not finished better than third in the last eight seasons. However, the club seems to be entering into a renaissance period under Wenger, and with a sound financial base combined with a new-found team spirit inspired by the arrival of Mesut Ozil, the future suddenly looks bright for the Gunners. Balancing the pressure of being front runners with their Champions League ambitions will be the key for Wenger this season.
Then we have Liverpool, a team that has not won the League for nearly a quarter of a century, yet still retains the mantle of one the biggest clubs in the world. Since that last league win in 1990 they have won just about everything going and have amassed thirteen trophies, but that 19th league title still eludes them. After a difficult few years of ownership issues and managerial changes, they finally seem to be forcing their way back into the frame under the guidance of the impressive Brendan Rodgers, and they also enjoy the luxury of one of the deadliest strike forces in the league with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. The Reds also have no European football to distract them and paradoxically, this could help them get back into Europe next season.
Next up is the surprise package; Southampton. Are they the real deal, or are they this season’s flying starters who will eventually fade as the gruelling campaign wears on? Remember, this time last year West Brom were in fifth place on 20 points and the year before Newcastle were in third on 25 points. Mauricio Pochettino does seem to be more than just a flash in the pan though. At Espanyol, he generated over £30 million in profit from player sales and practically saved the club from extinction. He then had to promote a dozen youth players to the first team and was sacked when they struggled to adapt to La Liga. He is young, forward-thinking and tactically astute but the long season may eventually take its toll on the Saints and their lofty ambitions. A top eight finish would still be an excellent achievement.
Before the season started, Chelsea were many people’s favourites for the title; mainly due to the return of Jose Mourinho, but things have not been plain sailing for the “Special One” since his return to Stamford Bridge. Some players have struggled to adapt to his system and the lack of striking options has been a concern, but the Blues still sit in a comfortable position in the table above their expected rivals from Manchester. Mourinho will be looking for reinforcements in January and a couple of tweaks here and there could help Chelsea make a push for the top spot.
Reigning champions Manchester United have stumbled into their new era under David Moyes and it really should come as no surprise. After so many years and so much success, the post-Ferguson transition was always going to be a difficult one, but they seem to be making steady progress at last. It would take a brave man to write them off but David Moyes does have a tendency to try and hang on for a point in certain games when his predecessor would have gone all out for the win. It is that winning mentality that creates the fine margins required to be champions and the Red Devils may just lack that touch of ruthless evil this season.
Manchester City were also many people’s pre-season favourites and when you look at their squad it is no wonder. New Manager Manuel Pellegrini has transformed the way that the team plays but he has failed to secure enough points away from home, and this could be their downfall this season. They are already six points adrift of Arsenal having have lost four games out of eleven, and that is not the form of champions. They will need a fantastic run of form over the rest of the season to overcome the four teams currently above them.
Andre Villas Boas has certainly divided the Tottenham fans and there are very few pundits that even consider them as title challengers, but they should not be ruled out just yet. Tottenham are five points behind Arsenal and they have yet to hit their stride on the pitch. However, they have had to integrate a lot of new players into the squad while adapting to life without their former star player, Gareth Bale. The Manager is slowly putting together a team that can play in the system he wants and they can be expected to improve over the course of the season. Anyone who has watched Roberto Soldado over the last five or six years will know what a great striker he is and if he gets the right service, he will score goals.
Finally, we need to talk about Everton; currently in fifth place with just one defeat in eleven games. Roberto Martinez has finally got the chance to prove what he can do with a good quality squad of players and the difference in the style of Everton’s plays can already be seen. While it would be far too early or foolish to consider them as title contenders, they must be taken seriously as candidates for a top four finish.
So, once all this information has been digested and the facts taken into consideration, what conclusions can be drawn about the where the teams will finish this year. Yes, it’s time to take the plunge and commit to a final top four.
- Arsenal (Wengers experience pays off aided by a significant January signing)
- Chelsea (Mourinho brings in January reinforcements but fails to catch the Gunners)
- Manchester United (Moyes has a stuttering debut season but the shear momentum of the club carries him into third)
- Liverpool (Sturridge and Suarez make the difference for Liverpool who just pip Manchester City to the final Champions League spot)