With the ushering in of the New Year, we are halfway through the footballing season. The Barclays Premier League has, unsurprisingly, once again lived up to the expectations of being the most competitive and unpredictable league in the world. The likes of Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp taking up the top job at the leading English clubs had made following the Premier League an exciting prospect even before it began. Gameweek 20 of the Premier League ended on the 3rd of January, 2017 and the table at its end is as shown below:
Let’s take a look at the title contenders, how they’ve fared so far and where they could probably finish at the end of the season.
1. Chelsea :
After their disastrous 2015-16 campaign under Jose Mourinho, which saw Chelsea become the worst defenders of the English League title(they finished 10th at the end of the season), hardly anybody would have thought that Chelsea would be in the title race this season, let alone lead it. Mourinho’s successor, Antonio Conte, who was setting foot for the first time in arguably the toughest league in the world, was expected to rebuild the team, which was in dire need of transition after a dismal season. But the London club have stunned the footballing world in epic fashion. Chelsea currently sit at the top of table with 49 points and a comfortable five point lead over second-placed Liverpool. The Blues were on a seemingly unbreakable winning streak of 13 games, which was finally broken by Tottenham Hotspurs on Wednesday night. But that doesn’t bar Chelsea from being the Champions-elect at present. They have been rock-solid at the back, having conceded the least number of goals(13) so far and have been as impeccable in attack, considering they are second in the list of the teams who have scored the most goals(42).
Conte’s decision to switch to the 3-4-3 formation was a masterstroke and there has hardly been any other team who can match the performance of the Blues since then. He has also been instrumental in bringing players like Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, who were a pale shadow of themselves last season, back in top form. Players like N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso have established themselves as a crucial components of the Chelsea juggernaut. Chelsea have always won the league whenever they have been top of the table midway through the season. So unless they suffer some unexpected bad run of games, Chelsea are well placed to win the title this season.
Predicted Finish : 1st
Liverpool FC is one club which is widely considered analogous to Leonardo Di Caprio. Such has been their league title drought that even the rivals fans,(except for maybe most of the Manchester United fans) feel sorry for them. The departure of the likes of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel robbed the Liverpool fans of the hopes of their team winning the league in the near future. In came Jurgen Klopp, and built a team which is reminiscent of Six Alex Ferguson’s legendary youth team of the early 90’s. With an average age of just 23, Klopp’s young Liverpool side has been tearing defenses apart this season with players like Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson ably filling up the big void left by the departures of Gerrard and Suarez. Liverpool play Barcelonaesque attacking football, often leaving the opposition in a mess, as is evident by the fact that they have scored the most goals so far this season(49).
Liverpool currently sit behind table toppers Chelsea with a five-point deficit. The only chink in the armor for the Reds is the inexperienced back-line, which frequently gifts away goals, as was seen in quite a few matches this season, most recently in the 2-2 draw against Sunderland on Tuesday. If the Liverpool defenders are able to improve their game even a little, then alongwith the return of the injured Coutinho, Liverpool’s dream of finally winning the elusive English League title could be a reality at the end of this season.
Predicted Finish : 2nd
3. Manchester City:
Widely considered as the best manager in modern football, Pep Guardiola came to face what would be his toughest managerial endeavor till date, at Manchester City. Many were wondering how his unique style of football would be adapted at the Etihad. Guardiola, however, started off with a bang, with seven straight wins in the league by the end of September. City were playing the typical attractive Guardiola football, keeping possesion through exquisite passing and scoring at will. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling made City look like they would bring back English dominance in Europe, which has been gone since the past few years. A lot appears different, however, after 20 games in the league. Humiliating back-to-back losses against Chelsea and Leicester City in December alongwith the players’ recent poor run of form seem to have left the all-winning Pep in total disarray. The post-match interview after the game against Burnley, in which he gave a series of bland and sarcastic replies apart from recent statements like City being 10 years behind clubs like Manchester United, Barcelona, etc, have raised opinions such as Guardiola being unable to cope with being thrown out of the comfort zone that he has enjoyed in other leagues. City have conceded 22 goals so far in the league, which is the joint highest among the top six teams.
City currently sit 3rd in the table with 42 points, seven points behind leaders Chelsea. Manchester City still have a good chance of winning the league. They just have to get back to the way they were playing at the start of the season and Guardiola needs to pull himself together and devise stable strategies to tackle the long balls tactics that opponents have effectively used so far against his team.
Predicted Finish : 4th
The last time Arsenal won the league, they did it in an unprecedented way. Arsene Wenger’s ‘The Invincibles’ team of the early 2000’s are still the only team to get their names registered on the Golden Premier League trophy. But since then , the Gunners have managed to win a meagre single silverware, the FA Cup, in 2014-15 season. They have time and again been labelled ‘the eternal chokers’, often starting a season in style, but losing their way midway through the season, during the hectic November-January period, to be more precise. This season hasn’t been as what Arsenal fans would have liked either. Arsenal currently occupy the 4th position, following consecutive defeats against Everton and Manchester City in December. They managed to salvage a draw against Bournemouth on Tuesday night after falling behind 3-0, thanks to the heroics of Olivier Giroud. Arsenal seem to be succumbing to the pressure owing to injury-laden absence of crucial players like Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott.
Prior to Christmas, they had a 10- point lead over Manchester United, which has now been reduced to just 2 points. They haven’t been upto mark in terms of defense too, having conceded 22 goals so far, which is the highest among the top six teams. Arsenal are among the few clubs in England that play entertaining attacking football and can rip through opposition defenses on their day. But recurring injuries and lack of quality backup players continue to be the Achilles heel for the North-London side. So, unless Arsenal get back on track and avoid losing unnecessary points, they would have a tough job maintaining their 18-year Champions League appearance streak.
Predicted Finish : 5th
5. Manchester United:
The appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager and summer signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba made Manchester United title contenders for this season straightaway. They had a bright start to the season as well, winning the FA Community Shield against English Champions Leicester City and the first few games in the Premier League. However, things took a turn for the worse around mid September. Consecutive defeats against Manchester City and Watford followed by a string of winless games that included a shambolic 4-0 defeat against Jose’s previous club Chelsea, saw United win just 2 out of 11 consecutive games in the Premier League. Pogba and Mkhitaryan were struggling to find their feet and Mourinho’s strange choice of players coupled with unusually bad luck was starting to bring back the demons of the past three seasons. December, however, has been much better for the United faithful.
Mourinho seems to have finally found his perfect starting lineup with the Red Devils presenttly on an unbeaten streak of 13 games and a winning streak of 6 games. Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan have been phenomenal since the past month or so, while Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera have made themselves undroppable. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have been rock-solid at the back in the absence of the preferred pair of Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly.While considering Manchester United completely out of the title race may seem a little harsh, they have certainly sprung back in to the race for the top four. The Red Devils are currently 6th in table, 2 points behind 4th-placed Arsenal. United have been playing entertaining and passionate football, which hasn’t been seen at Old Trafford since the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Slowly but surely, they are turning into a typical Mourinho side, with a solid defense, a commanding midfield and a sharp attack. The way United are currently performing, they will surely give their rivals a run for their money in the race for English supremacy.
Predicted Finish : 3rd