Written by Sport and Fitness • Published 02nd November 2016
We may have witnessed, without doubt, the most bizarre, unprecedented season in the history of the Premier League last year, but it was by no means the closest in terms of the race for the title.
We saw the unthinkable become reality as Leicester City defied the 5000/1 odds stacked against them to claim English football’s top prize. We saw the demise of the reigning champions and subsequently the ‘Special One’ who was left unemployed before the turn of the year – albeit not for long. We saw former European champions in Aston Villa crash out of the division with their tails between their legs, capping years of turmoil at Villa Park. But the one thing missing from this incredible campaign was a close title race.
Despite the fact Tottenham could still mathematically win the league with three games to go – their 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea made them the first team to finish a ‘two horse race’ in third – meaning Leicester still won the league comfortably by 10 points.
However, many are tipping this year to be far closer, with the champion boasting a significantly lower margin of victory come May.
We could now be looking at the hardest title race to call in years, with 5/6 teams looking like they could mount a challenge. Granted – we’re only 10 games into the season but a mere three points currently separates the top five.
In recent years, we have seen the dissolution of the so-called set-in-stone ‘top 4’ of United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea – and this is testament to the increased competitiveness of the league. Tottenham’s emergence from the shadows of their North London rivals and as City continue to thrive from the Abu Dhabi United Group investment – the Premier League is only getting stronger.
This year, we have Manchester City under the guidance of charismatic Spaniard Pep Guardiola sitting as favourites with the bookmakers and until recently looked as if they could be an unstoppable force – winning their first 10 games in all competitions.
The picture is slightly different now as we saw them pick up their first win in six at the weekend – proving there is a certain vulnerability about the way Guardiola has them play. Self-imposed defensive calamities at the back have shown that if teams go to the Etihad with a high-intensity press there is plenty of room for error by the City back line. Despite this, there is no denying they are a class outfit going forward and on their day, can cause serious damage to pretty much anyone. For this reason, they are my favourites to come out on top come the end of the season.
Prediction – 1st
Then we have Arsenal. An enigma in recent years that has left many Gooners ripping their hair out every January.
It could be said that in full flow there is no better side to watch than Wenger’s men, but then again you could say that there is no side more frustrating when they happen to not be on their game. Years and years of building false hope pre-Christmas time has left many fans too tired to even begin to dream. Whilst they will be top of the league this Christmas, the title won’t be heading to the Emirates until they prove they have the character to last the distance – not the first 19 games.
Prediction – 2nd
Chelsea, under the leadership of Antonio Conte, looked like a bunch of headless chickens in their 3-0 loss to Arsenal earlier this season – but since then Conte seems to have finally found a system that works with a consistent team selection that has seen them become a much more reliable outfit. Costa and Hazard appear to be finding their form again, which was vital in their league winning campaign under Mourinho. I think top four would be considered a success for Conte in his first season – especially after Chelsea’s chaotic attempt to defend their crown last season. This year may be too soon for a serious title claim – but I’d keep an eye out for them next season.
On to their North London rivals – Tottenham Hotspur. In recent years, Spurs have been one of the fastest growing teams in the country. Pochettino has a great group of young, hungry players at the Lane and they are another side, who on their day can counter teams to death. But unfortunately, you can’t help but think last year was their glaring opportunity to grab their first league championship since 1961. Besides, the longer Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld remain on the sidelines – the slimmer their chances will get.
Finally, we have Manchester United. Struggling for form since the retirement of Sir Alex in 2013 – United have been a disappointment for the last few seasons. Mourinho’s signings are yet to hit the heights many expected of them and goals have been hard to come by for the red devils. It may just be that just as with Conte, next year will be the year we see Mourinho stamp his authority on his side. But for this season? Not for me.
Next, we have Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. A club many have considered a sleeping giant – Liverpool have struggled to put together a credible title challenge with the exception of the 13/14 season with the infamous Gerrard slip. However, the absence of European football along with the tactical prowess of Klopp sees Liverpool sit firmly as my dark horse. The front three of Firmino, Coutinho and Mane is proving to be a success so far – and Sturridge isn’t a bad option off the bench at all. The one thing that will stop them winning the league? Simple. Goalkeeper.