The turn of the year brings with it many things: silly resolutions that are abandoned before the month is out, new challenges to face and an urge to make this year better than the last. Football is no different, although the prize for most is ultimately the same. This time of year signals a focus which could lead to glory for some, or bitter disappointment for others. The flurry of Christmas games in England is normally a scale to help decipher who is best equipped for the run-in to the season’s end. However, at this point, I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that one team will pull away. Its rather the opposite, as the teams at the top of the table (the top three at least) look like keeping close to each other until the very end.
When August rolled around, I predicted that the season would run the same course as the last. United and Chelsea sparring for top spot, City being in the hunt but not having that extra push as yet and Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs scrapping for fourth place. Granted, the latter seems bound to happen anyway, but the balance of power at the top seems to be shifting. City seem hell-bent on becoming the new powerhouse in Manchester, and on a larger scale, England. At the same time, all of the other contenders ,at one point or another this season, seem to have lost their identity. This has given the table an extremely interesting look, as the big spenders from the blue half of Manchester proudly lead the rest of the pack. Whether they’ll be there come May is another story, but it got me thinking. It’s been such an odd season so far that there can be no certainties.
To this end I’ve decided to analyze each of the title contenders or near-runners based on their seasons so far, and try to figure out where they will end up. Ironically, the positions of the teams right now help with my analysis and are probably a slight indication as to who’ll be top of the dross come summer, and who will be highly disappointed.
So, let’s begin.
Current Position: 1st
Key Player: David Silva
City flew out of the blocks at the beginning of the season, scoring for fun in games and generally swatting away any opposition. Their position right now is totally justified. The rash influx of foreign talent was expected during the summer but I don’t think people expected them to play like a team as quickly and as easily as they have. That being said, the goals haven’t been flowing as freely of late, and the result have been harder to come by. Add to that the fact that they are missing a couple of key players and the juggernaut has become a tad vulnerable. The league is way too unpredictable at the moment to say that the top of the table clashes will decide the destination of the title, but if City can get a healthy amount of points from those games, it will be very hard to bet against them.
Upcoming Games: v Tottenham, at Everton, v Fulham, at Villa, v Blackburn, v Bolton
Predicted Points: 16/18
Current Position: 2nd
Key Player: Wayne Rooney
Like City, United started the season ruthlessly, racking up wins and playing with the swagger that the defending champions should have. Then, something weird happened. The performances started to deteriorate. They were still winning games but scraping through them. Then, it got worse. A week after exiting the League Cup with a limp display, United were embarrassingly dumped out of the Champions League due to their own overconfidence and some very questionable displays. An off-colour Wayne Rooney hasn’t helped their cause but the blame isn’t just his to shoulder. The whole team has lost its aura of invincibility. Now, I am a die-hard United fan, and as much as I would love to blame the club’s massive injury list for these issues, I just can’t. Failure to secure a central midfielder in the transfer window was seen as a fatal mistake and the sudden and unexpected re-signing of Paul Scholes until the end of the season only adds fuel to the fire. The performances have improved of late and will probably stay that way as key players return from injury. United typically shift into gear at this time of the season, but I’m not sure that will be enough to defend their title.
Upcoming Games: at Arsenal, v Stoke, at Chelsea, v Liverpool, at Norwich, at Tottenham
Projected Points: 14/18
Current Position: 3rd
Key Player: Gareth Bale
Spurs, for me, have been the revelation of the season. The one thing that has been missing from this team for a while has been consistency. Guess what? It’s there now, for the most part. It begins with a solid and stable starting XI, which is a surprise considering the manager. Harry Redknapp is known as a tinkerer to most, but this season he’s decided to stay true to his starters, allowing for continuity and an impressive run of form. Good move, Harry. The true test is how the team reacts to any injuries that may occur and, more importantly, games against the lower lights in the league. Spurs have a propensity to struggle against smaller teams and this could be their undoing. If, however, they manage to rectify that issue, another promising Champions League run awaits. The league’s not far off either. Have a go, Coys.
Upcoming Games: at City, v Wigan, at Liverpool, v Newcastle, at Arsenal, v Man Utd
Projected Points: 12/18
Current Position : 4th
Key Player: Juan Mata
Chelsea look a far cry from the team that constantly challenge for the League title each season. Whether it’s the new management, the lack of youthful legs, or just Fernando Torres (seriously, what is wrong with him?), the team just look extremely jaded each week. Chelsea fans obviously know unless the top three slip up MASSIVELY, they have no chance of winning the title. Most will be looking to the summer and a possible revamp of the team. Andre Villas Boas has begun clearing the deadwood by removing Nic Anelka and attempting to ship out Alex and Salomon Kalou but yet questions will still remain. Will Drogba still be around come season end? Or Lampard? Either way, Chelsea seem to be entering a rebuilding stage that may take some time and could have an effect on their imminent success. They are still in 3 competitions but, of those three, the FA Cup is probably their best bet.
Upcoming Games: at Norwich, at Swansea, v Man Utd, at Everton, v Bolton, at West Brom
Projected Points: 12/18
Current Position: 5th
Key Player: Robin Van Persie
Arsenal have had the ultimate rollercoaster season so far. They had an awful start to the season, then rallied to have an impressive mid-season run and now are bobbing along inconsistently. Truthfully, without RVP, this season would’ve been one to forget before Christmas even came around. Luckily, he’s managed to stay injury-free and that always gives Arsenal a chance. However, cover for him is desperately needed as this team will be in trouble should he be out for an extended period of time. Per Mertesacker looks a massive liability in that defense and the team is still prone to goals from set pieces. Anything above 4th place seems a pipe dream, so expect to see them and Chelsea fighting for that final position. The way both have been playing, it’s not a fight I particularly want to see.
Upcoming Games: v Man Utd, at Bolton, v Blackburn, at Sunderland, v Tottenham, at Liverpool
Projected Points: 10/18
Current Position: 6th
Key Player: Demba Ba
Newcastle are second in my “Revelation of the Season” poll, running Spurs very close. Their displays this season look more like those of top four hopefuls rather than mid-table dwellers, which is always a positive. They play without fear, move the ball around effectively, and in Demba Ba, have one of the deadliest and in form strikers in the league at present. Their midfield also looks like one of the best in England right now, behind only City. Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote complement each other well; one being a silky passer with a eye for the perfect pass, the other a no-nonsense enforcer marshalling the back four. Like Spurs, unfortunately, they still struggle against lower opposition at times and that in all likeliness means their current position probably won’t change between now and the end of the season.
Upcoming Games: at Fulham, at Blackburn, v Aston Villa, at Tottenham, v Wolves, v Sunderland
Projected Points: 14/18
Current Position: 7th
Key Player: Luis Suarez
Where to begin? For all the hype from Liverpool fans stating they will challenge this season, not much has been done to prove this as fact. Liverpool look more of a threat to themselves than anyone else, honestly. Aside from a couple good performances here and there, the team looks bereft of ideas at times and have been unbelievably wasteful in front of goal. Their plight hasn’t been helped by the well publicized racism issue that surrounded Suarez, who is currently serving his eight match ban for the aforementioned offense. You’d think a player that cost them in excess of $30 million would be able to help them through all this but sadly, Andy Carroll’s been more of a liability than an asset this season and continues to look out of place. If you include the long-term absence of Lucas (who was very impressive up until his injury) and the constant injuries Steven Gerrard seems to pick up, there’s not much to be proud of at Anfield this season. To put this into context, Adidas pulled the plug on Liverpool this week due to the team’s under-performance on the pitch. That’s as big of a warning sign as you’ll get. Looking at all that, seventh place is looking like a treat right now.
Upcoming Games: at Bolton, v Wolves, v Tottenham, at Man Utd, v Everton, v Arsenal
Projected Points: 9/18
Based on those analyses, it’s safe to say that this season has been a neutral’s dream, with no clear-cut winner as yet. The home stretch promises to be just as entertaining, with teams jostling for final position. I’ve made a provisional table based purely on my analysis and what I’ve seen this season. It’s clear that each of the teams at the top will need some improvements come summer, but for one, it’ll be made that much easier by the silverware in their cabinet.
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Tottenham Hotspur
13. Aston Villa
14. West Brom
*Illustrations by H.G. Fields
*The illustrator, being a keen Spurs supporter, found working on the RVP image rather difficult and thus did not want to attach his name to the image. Football, bloody hell.