We’ve now reached the halfway stage in the Premier League season, with all teams having played 19 games. It’s been a season full of intrigue and excitement, but the best thing about this season so far is the fact that the title race is wide open.
It would take either an oracle or a supremely confident individual to be able to predict who will end up on top of the league in May, but as 2013 becomes 2014, we thought it might be sensible just to take a step back and assess the chances of the title contenders. Here goes:
Before the Christmas period, Liverpool were sitting at the top of the Premier League. Fast forward to New Year’s Eve and they’re not even in the top four.
This is the cruel reality of Premier League football, and whilst talk of a Liverpool title tilt was extremely premature, there’s no doubt that Brendan Rodgers and his charges will be aggrieved at how quickly they have been muscled out of the Champions League places.
There is a lot to like about this Liverpool team. Luis Suarez is the form footballer in the world at the moment and assisted by Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge (before his injury), the Reds have been an absolute joy to watch this season. Rodgers must take much of the credit for the tactical game that he has instilled into his charges, but the Irishman will know that unless his team can beat the teams around them, they are going to struggle to be looked at as genuine contenders.
Optimism around Anfield has evaporated somewhat as Liverpool suffered two fatal losses: first to Man City, and secondly to Mourinho’s Chelsea. Whilst Rodgers no doubt feels aggrieved at the manner of the defeats at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge, the fact remains that the Reds have failed to beat any top teams this season (aside from a basketcase Spurs side).
Although they currently sit outside the Champions League places, I believe that Rodgers’ side has enough about it to finish in the top four this season, and therefore I’m backing them to leapfrog their Merseyside rivals Everton by the end of the season.
Current league position: 5th Predicted final league position: 4th
A hard-fought victory at St James Park on Sunday took Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League, and that’s where the Gunners will see in the New Year.
It has been an impressive few months for Arsene Wenger’s side, with yet another summer of inactivity forgotten following the £42.5 million acquisition of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. With Aaron Ramsey in exquisite form from September to November, and Olivier Giroud discovering his scoring boots, Arsenal marched to the top of the league, and give or take a few days, this is the position that Arsenal have occupied for much of the season.
Whether or not the Gunners can win their first Premier League title for ten years rather depends on the fortunes of Man City and Chelsea, but for a side who haven’t been playing at the top table for a number of seasons, one would have to say that 2013 has been quite some year for the top team in North London.
An ominous sign for Wenger is that Chelsea and Man City are starting to look rather impressive. Both clubs will almost certainly have money to spend in January, and it remains to be seen whether or not Arsenal have the squad to go the distance. As much as it would be wonderful late Christmas present for Arsenal fans, I simply can’t see past either shades of blue for the title, and consequently, I predict that Arsenal will finish in third.
Current league position: 1st Predicted final league position: 3rd
At the start of the season, Man City were installed as joint favourites along with Chelsea, but it’s fair to say that it hasn’t been the easiest of rides for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. An embarrassingly loss away to Cardiff was followed by an away run which saw them only extract four points from a possible 12 on the road.
Thankfully for Pellegrini, in contrast to their woeful away form, City quickly set about making the Etihad pretty much the scariest stadium in the British Isles, with Newcastle, Man Utd, Norwich, Tottenham and Arsenal all conceding four or more goals away to the Citizens.
As they rolled into December, it appeared that Pellegrini had managed to stop the away rot, and it now appears that City are the side best placed to win the Premier League. In Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo they have the best strike partnership in the league and in Vincent Kompany, the best defender. Keeping those three fit will give City a marvellous chance of winning only their second Premier League crown, and even if they fail to keep them fit, their strength in depth would still make them strong contenders.
For me, the only thing that could stand in the way of City clinching their second title is Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese has been there and done it, which gives him a significant advantage over Pellegrini, who has never managed in the Premier League before. That little factor could be decisive, and with that in mind, I’m backing City to finish as runners up once again.
Current league position: 2nd Predicted final league position: 2nd
Jose Mourinho’s prospective return to Stamford Bridge was last summer’s worst kept secret, but it’s fair to say that the Special One’s return hasn’t been the smoothest. This Chelsea side is not the same team he left in 2007, and it’s clear that the players have been required to adapt to the Mourinho way. Understandably, it’s taken some time.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Mourinho is that in spite of his team not playing anywhere near their potential, they currently only sit two places off the top of the Premier League. This is a testament to the way that Mourinho can set up his teams to grind out results, and as we head into the cold and chilly section of the season, the ability to churn out a result is absolutely vital.
Whilst Mourinho has suggested that he will not enter the transfer market this January, even casual observer of Chelsea this season will be acutely aware of their major Achilles heel – strikers.
Chelsea have Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o as their three recognised strikers, and all have failed to perform during their numerous auditions. If Mourinho is serious about Chelsea winning the league, he needs to bring another forward in this January.
If Chelsea can acquire the striker they need, then they’re my tip for the title. The Blues might not be everyone’s favourite side to watch, but anyone who watched Chelsea’s win over Liverpool cannot fail to be impressed at the pragmatic and tactically perfect game played by the men from Stamford Bridge. A few more wins like that, and it will be like 2005 all over again for Chelsea.
Current league position: 3rd Predicted final league position: 1st
Everton are the side currently occupying the fourth spot, and Roberto Martinez should be very proud of the way the Toffees have played so far this season. The lack of squad depth suggests to me that Everton cannot yet be considered as serious title contenders, but if Martinez can continue his fine work at Goodison Park, then there’s absolutely no reason why they can’t sneak a Champions League spot
Man Utd fans are probably not used to being glossed over when title predictions are being made, but unfortunately, I don’t give United a hope in hell of winning the league this season. Whilst they are starting to turn it round now, the appointment of David Moyes has set United back considerably, and as in the summer, the Red Devils will now find it very difficult to bring in players of genuine world-class ability. In my view, United are likely to go through something of a transition period in the next few years. Whether Moyes is the manager to facilitate that remains to be seen.
Tottenham were another side trumpeted as potential title contenders in the summer, but have been close to self-destruction so far this season following the sale of Gareth Bale and the purchase of seven new players. Andre Villas-Boas was sacked following a number of poor results, and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has now made the curious decision to hand the reigns to rookie Tim Sherwood. This could be a masterstroke, or the most catastrophic blunder since Paolo di Canio. Only time will tell.