This season the Premier League title race has been harder to call then ever before, with at one stage seven teams having a realistic shot at the league title. In most seasons since the Premier League began in 1992/93, there have been two or three teams competing for the title at this stage of the season. In 2013/14, four teams can count themselves very much still in the title race. Here I assess the chances of the four sides, in what is sure to have fans up and down the country gripped till the end of the league season in May.
Current league standings
- Chelsea Played 26 Points 57 GD + 27
- Arsenal Played 26 Points 56 GD + 22
- Man City Played 25 Points 54 GD + 41
- Liverpool Played 26 Points 53 GD + 34
The Big Spenders– Manchester City
Manchester City started the season as one of the favourites for the title and with Manchester United’s poor showing, they have been the title favourites throughout the campaign. City had a shaky start with away defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa, before going on a long unbeaten run in which they have scored goals for fun at home.
Going forward they have a host of attacking options with Alvaro Negredo being a huge success so far in his first season of English football. Stevan Jovetic has just come back to full fitness and Edin Dzecko has put his bad experiences from previous manager, Mancini, behind him. When at his best Yaya Toure still looks unplayable from midfield, seemingly controlling games on his own and the creative genius of Silva, Navas and Nasri have all shone through in spells this year.
Joe Hart struggled early in the season, but is great to see him back in form ahead of this summer’s World Cup where he travels as England’s first choice goalkeeper.
However, they do have problems, despite their attacking options, it is already showing what the absence of Sergio Aguero has on the team, he can win games on his own and with Negredo not performing as well since his shoulder injury, they are relying on Dzeko and Jovetic, a young man who has been on the injury table all season.
Since Manchester City have started challenging for the title in recent years, one area which has always brought critism is their defence and it could be their achilles heel in their title bid. You only have to see the stats when captain Vincent Kompany is out of the team to see how important he is to City, but the inability to find a strong partner for him, even when he does play, could prove costly for them. Martin Demichelis has played for the majority of this campaign, but never seems to look convincing. The Barcelona game this week has further shown this, ovbiously they will not come up against players such as Messi, Sanchez and Iniesta every week, however it highlighted their main weakness.
Pelligirini himself has come under critism this year for being one dimensional. However, it is still his first season in England and he was able to get one over on Mourinho in the FA Cup last Saturday.
Their fixtures left are not easy on paper with trips to Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and rivals Manchester United all still to come. However, if any side has the squad to cope with the demanding fixtures left it is City.
The Little Horse – Chelsea
Before the start of the season I picked Chelsea to win the title, with the main reason being the Mourinho factor. Despite trailing to Manchester City and Arsenal for large parts of the season, Jose Mourinho appears to have now found the team he wants to go with, which could provide the stability they need.
Love him or hate him, Jose Mourinho can be seen as one of the most successful managers of the modern game and he has had success wherever he has been. As he has done in his previous jobs the special one has made his mark on the Chelsea squad this season leaving key players out of the first team from last year, such as Juan Mata and Ashley Cole. While this is still questioned, it has allowed him to get a youthful side with a lot of energy to build the way he wants. In recent weeks Hazard has started to show his potential as has Willian, with Oscar being consistant throughout the campaign.
While the team is very solid at the back and full of energy in midfield the problem which was obvious when Mourinho rejoined Chelsea remains, the forwards. Fernando Torres and Demba Ba have both had torrid times since joining the Blues and the only edition has been the experienced Samuel Eto’o. The Cameroon international, who had worked with Mourinho before at Inter Milan, has been the first choice striker for the majority of the campaign, but it is clear he is well past his best. He showed a match winning performance against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, yet still this is a clear area of weakness for Chelsea. Over the summer I expect them to try and land a new striker and get rid of either Torres or Ba, or both.
John Terry has come back this season under Mourinho and despite being ruled out of an England return by Roy Hodgson it is hard to see a better English centre back this season. Alongside Terry, Gary Cahill and David Luiz have also had good seasons when called upon, despite Luiz still being prone to positional errors when starting in defence.
Despite being knocked out of the FA Cup last week, in the league Chelsea are on a good unbeaten run stretching back to a 3-2 defeat at Stoke at the start of December. In the run in they welcome Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal to Stamford Bridge, where they are yet to lose this season, as well as travelling to Anfield to face Liverpool.
The Gunners – Arsenal
Whichever way you look at Arsenal’s season the first thing to point out is how far they have come from recent years. Arsenal have not won the Premiership crown for a decade and have barely featured in the majority of title races since. This year, however, they have led the league for large parts of the season and remain well in the title race despite being written off by the majority. It is a far cry from where they were after the opening day of the season ,when a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa had fans calling for Arsene Wenger’s head. The only major signing they have made is Mesut Ozil, but the impact he made particular before Christmas has showed his worth. An outstanding first half of the season from Aaron Ramsey also took people by shock and he has probably made the biggest impression on their success so far.
Arsenal have been the most consistent side against the weaker teams in the division, rarely dropping points and picking up victories whether at home or away. However, against the other top sides they have struggled, results that stand out are the heavy defeats away at Manchester City 6-3 and Liverpool 5-1, which could prove costly for the Gunners.
Apart from these rare poor performances, Arsenal’s defence has been strong throughout the league this season with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at the heart of their defence.
One problem which has arisen is upfront, Olivier Giroud has had a good season, despite not reaching the heights of Suarez and Negredo. However, with no alternative to Giroud other than Nicholas Bentdner he has been played virtually every game, which in recent weeks has taken a toll on his performances.
Arsenal have a tough remaining fixture list including Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City all in a row, however they are only one point off the top of the table and if their midfield starts firing like they can they have a chance.
The Outsider – Liverpool
Despite Brendan Rodgers writing off his own side’s title hopes in recent weeks, Liverpool are only four points off the top of the table and their destructive victory against Arsenal, 5-1, was one of the performances of this season. While they may lack the depth that City and Chelsea have, they have the attacking fire power to worry any defence in the world. Luis Suarez has hit back at his critics in the best way possible this season, as he is shown why he is one of the hottest propreries in world football. As an England fan there is a good chance he will tear us apart in the World Cup this summer, but all Liverpool fans will be hoping he carries on his form for the rest of the season. He is the league’s top scorer and alongside Daniel Sturridge, has struck a great partnership. Sturridge has come of age since joining Liverpool last season, having struggled at Chelsea and City previously, and has all but guaranteed himself a seat on the plane to Rio with England. The resurgence of Raheem Sterling in recent weeks has brought freshness to Liverpool’s attack and Jordan Henderson has showed why he was so sought after as a youngster.
The whole of the Liverpool set up under Brendan Rodgers is fantastic to see. Yet, amongst all these young talents he has built a great side around, is the experience and heart of the club Steven Gerrard. Despite being past his peak, Gerrard has been an ever present in the team this year and has played well sat deeper than he has previously.
Like all the top four sides they do have weaknesses, their defence has been shaky at times and inconsistency has shown such as the recent draws with West Brom and Aston Villa. Kolo Toure has at times been suspect, as has keeper Simon Mingolet and these may be areas Rodgers chooses to improve in the summer.
The remaining fixtures see them host both Chelsea and Manchester City and while they still have a trip to Old Traford to face Manchester United, the prospect does not seem as hard as it has in previous years. The performances at Chelsea and Manchester City over Christmas, when Liverpool lost both games 2-1, showed they compete well with any side in the league and they will be eargly anticipating the return fixtures.
A top four finish will surely be Liverpool’s for the first time in years, despite Tottenham, Everton and Manchester United all still being in the race. The title may be just beyond them this season, but it should provide a platform for them to build on over the summer and into the 2014/15 season.
- Manchester City
Overrall I think the title race will go right down to the wire, but will ultimately be between two teams in the final weeks of the season, Chelsea and Manchester City. Liverpool and Arsenal both have had good seasons and will hopefully be able to build on this next year. Despite the defeat by Barecelona on Wednesday night I expect City will get over the line in the Premier League, no other side has been as impressive in so many games and on paper they have looked the strongest throughout and with Aguero’s return they should be at full strength for the final season run in. The Mourinho factor will be Chelsea’s biggest strength, but for this year at least I think he will have to settle for second.