As the Barclays Premier League title race enters the new calendar year, more than half the matches are already been played and every team has played its 19 opponents at least once. The league table is taking a definitive shape and one could say with some degree of confidence that it is going to look more or less similar come May. So this is a good time to start discussing the title contenders. After closely following the 20 rounds of games so far, one can see the strengths and weaknesses of title contenders emerging.
Based on the evidence produced by the season so far, it would not be wrong to say that the top 3 positions will be occupied by Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, not necessarily in the same order. Although Liverpool have been in top 3 during some part of the season already, most notably on the Christmas day when they were top of the table, given the lack of depth in the Liverpool squad and over dependence on Suarez means that they may not be able to outdo Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. So now the question arises, if you were to put your money on one team to win the title, who would that be?
Who will be the champion?
Let’s assess the chances of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. Arsenal have so far been the early pacesetters and at one point in time it looked like that they will be able run away with the tile as their close competitors were stuttering and they were getting the 3 points regularly. But defeats against Manchester clubs and home draws against Everton and Chelsea have kind of put a dent in their title challenge. Also, defeats in some key matches such as home defeat to Chelsea in Capital One Cup and against Napoli in the last group game of UEFA CL has raised concerns in some quarters whether Arsenal has the wherewithal to maintain the challenge until May. There are few other concerns with this Arsenal team that are emerging now. Firstly, lack of quality back up striker as they have been overly dependent on Giroud and when he is either not in form or injured they are struggling. Secondly, the ability of Arsenal’s key player to maintain their form over the entire season as it is becoming apparent now that Ramsey’s form has dipped a bit, Ozil has gone missing in some big games and Cazorla has still not shown his last year’s form. All these things point that possibly this Arsenal team peaked earlier than required. And, finally Arsenal’s relatively thin squad means they run the higher risk due to injuries compared to the other two contenders. Also the remaining fixture list is not particularly kind to them with tough away fixtures to Chelsea, Everton, Spurs and Liverpool to come. Overall I would say Arsenal are good for top 3 but may not be able to win the title come May.
Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea on the other hand have been quietly doing their business. I say quietly because neither have they blown oppositions away like Manchester City have done nor have they lost to key rivals like Arsenal have. Mourinho has blended flair with practicality well so far, for example, they knew they could not afford to lose away to Manchester United and Arsenal and Mourinho were content to play for a point and have achieved that. Even if you look at their fixtures, some of their tough away games are out of the way and only two tough away games await them – at Etihad and Anfield. In Mourinho they have a manager who knows a thing or two about winning titles too. Only worry for Chelsea is the poor striking options that they have and it may bite them in the end. Overall they will be in the mix come May.
The third and the final contender, Manchester City, started the season in Jekyll and Hyde fashion – blowing away oppositions at Etihad but succumbing at away matches. But looks like beating Bayern away from the home has done a world of good to City’s away form and for once they were able to win consecutive away matches in the league. One key concern for City is defence which struggles in the absence of their captain Kompany and the merry go round that is going on in the goal keeping department. Another concern is that City arguably also has the toughest away fixtures; at least on paper with trips to Emirates, Anfiled, Old Trafford, White Hart Lane and Goodison still to come. Also, City is the only team which is still competing for the 4 major honours this season – Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup but given the squad that City has, it shouldn’t worry them. On the positive side, Manchester City are nothing short of phenomenal at their home and I don’t see them dropping points at home. Whether the title goes to Etihad or not depends a lot on City’s away form.
Prediction: City to win the title with Chelsea as runners-up and Arsenal coming 3rd