With almost a quarter of the Barclays Premier League season now over, fans now have an idea of how things would pan out over the rest of the season. Even though it still might be a bit too early to come to conclusions, most experts of the game would by now have an opinion on how the league table might look at the end of the season. Even fans tend to remain divided on their views on who finishes where.
As the wait for yet another weekend of excitement continues, we take a look at how the sides have fared so far and what to expect from them in the reminder of the season and finally, the author’s personal Top 4 predictions.
The team that started the season as favourites and are currently doing everything right to justify that view is Chelsea. Jose Mourinho has an enviable record of winning the League title in the second year of his tenure everywhere he has been as a manager, and he looks set to continue that tradition with the sort of form Chelsea are displaying now. Unlike previous years, Chelsea are playing a better brand of attacking possession-based football and are reaping the rewards with 22 points secured out of the 24 possible so far.
Mourinho has played all his cards right this time by adding quality players to his side and with new signings like Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa looking extraordinarily good, Chelsea now has enough firepower in its side to even fight for a treble this season. The shrewd tactician he is, Mourinho would not be ashamed to tweak his new attacking tactics and go back to parking the ‘bus’, if need arises especially against the bigger sides. This flexibility is their biggest strength in addition to their unbelievable squad depth.
The only possible way for Chelsea to fall behind now is injuries especially at the back. With the departure of David Luiz to PSG and the loan moves of Tomas Kalas and Kenneth Omeruo, Chelsea might be under a bit of pressure if either of John Terry or Gary Cahill suffers a reasonably big injury. But still, with the likes of Kurt Zouma and Brainslav Ivanovic for backup even then chances are low that Chelsea could be shaken.
If there is one side that currently looks worthy to be called a realistic title-contender to Chelsea, it has got to be Manchester City. The current champions under Manuel Pellegrini are a strong unit as well and have started the season reasonably well, but their tendency to loss points unexpectedly is their biggest undoing. With Chelsea looking unstoppable, dropping points against mid-table sides like Stoke City (with all due respect to them) would not do them any good.
But still, City has now made it a habit to have a shaky start before hitting top form, as seen last season. On their day, City are the most destructive unit in the Premier League and could run a goal riot against any side; Pellegrini would just be hoping that his side could keep doing that more consistently.
Like Chelsea, Manchester City’s major strength lies in its squad depth. With atleast 2 quality players competing for each position, City has more options of squad rotation and could make sure the best players are always fit and rearing to go. The one mistake they might have made though is loaning out Alvaro Negredo. Even though the Spaniard himself is injured right now, with Stevan Jovetic and Sergio Aguero highly prone to injury Pellegrini might face a huge crisis upfront in case if he simultaneously lose 2 of his available 3 strikers.
Having fallen behind current leaders Chelsea by almost 11 points, Arsene Wenger’s wait for another Premier League title looks set to continue as Arsenal’s title dreams are almost close to over so early in the season. Even though Wenger has been dealt serious blows due to injuries to his key players, he is also to be blamed for the situation the side is currently in. Arsenal has looked extremely fragile at the back with the lack of adequate defensive cover to replace the injured players. In addition, Arsenal’s immediate need for a quality defensive midfielder has also skyrocketed, with Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini looking rather unimpressive so far. Wenger had the opportunity to close down these loopholes during the summer transfer window but failed to do so.
It is disappointing to see Arsenal struggle to get the points despite the presence of some extremely gifted players and them playing some wonderful football. The shortcomings in the key areas are only to be blamed and for Arsenal to have any hope of the revival of their title dreams, they will have to solve these issues during the January transfer window and strengthen their squad. But given Wenger’s nature, it is most likely that Arsenal would only buy either a defensive midfielder or a centre-back and thus do enough to stay in the Top 4, but would not be pushing for the title.
It would be a shame to see Arsenal go trophyless and as it would put Wenger’s job on jeopardy as well, it is likely that Arsenal would push for a Cup triumph again this season and then hope for a brighter season next term…..like always.
Manchester United has somehow managed to stay at 5th spot at the moment but has looked far from being a balanced side. Not having had to face any of the stronger sides so far, United have still conceded 12 goals so far and has looked defensively vulnerable. But with the side slowly adapting to Van Gaal’s philosophies and playing style, the side looks to be improving match by match. Van Gaal was rattled by injury concerns initially, but now the injuries have settled down and Van Gaal cannot place that excuse anymore.
The game against Chelsea next weekend would give an idea whether Manchester United have the ammunition to go for the Title. If United can steal points off the bigger sides then they could put themselves in a very strong position and could even challenge for the title. But even if they cannot (which looks the more probable scenario), their firepower upfront, the sort of insane spending they are more than likely to make in January on strengthening the squad, their manager and the not-so-pleasing situations of Liverpool and Arsenal would most likely ensure they are back in the Top 4.
From what we have seen from the matches so far, unfortunately, Liverpool is likely to struggle to finish in the Top 4 this season; unless Brendan Rodgers could figure out a way to replicate the free scoring nature of Luis Suarez from last season. Having conceded 50 goals last term (a 11th placed Crystal Palace conceded only 48), Liverpool’s surge ahead was shouldered almost singlehandedly by Suarez with his ability to score and make his teammates score. With Suarez gone and with Daniel Sturridge spending more time in the treatment room rather than the field and new signing Mario Balotelli missing a more easier chance with every passing game, the fluidity and attacking prowess associated with the Liverpool side last term seems to have deserted them.
Liverpool’s Champions League duties are also likely to take its toll. With new signings like Emre Can and Lazar Markovic not entirely impressing so far, Rodgers has been forced to continuously field players like Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson for every single match and sooner or later, fatigue would tear into their performance levels.
Southampton has performed extremely well so far. Widely expected to struggle after a major chunk of their star players left the side this season, the Saints have silenced their critics with staggering displays including the8-0 thumping of Sunderland. Southampton’s fabulous start resembles Everton’s run last time and like the Toffees last term, the Saints may fall short of the fuel to push for the Top 4 but might surprise everyone with a 5th place finish.
Everton meanwhile seem to have been beaten down by Europa League duties and even though they have been impressive the results have not really come and unlike last season, do not stand much chance to challenge for a Top 4 spot.
Thus, my Top 4 predictions for the season, atleast on the basis of what we have seen so far would be-
#2. Manchester City
#4. Manchester United