It’s the same question asked every season, but is proving harder to answer with any certainty partway through the 2015-16 Premier League campaign.
This season, the destination of the title might not be decided until the final round of fixtures. It’s one of the most unpredictable Premier League seasons of all time and it’s poised to have one of the most exciting finishes. No team has a decisive lead, and there are one or two surprise packages emerging. Could the title be won by a real outsider in 2016?
The neutrals favourite, Leicester City, received a dent to their title challenge in the way of a 95th minute injury time winner from Arsenal’s injury come-back-kid Danny Welbeck. Whilst Leicester City remain two points clear at the top of the league, Arsenal closed the gap today with the morale boosting last gasp winner.
Manchester City experienced an even bigger dent, losing 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur, leaving them six points adrift. Tottenham on the other hand have thrown their hat into the ring of genuine contenders, moving up to second, above North London rivals Arsenal on goal difference.
This time last year, Chelsea were red-hot favourites, particularly as nearest challengers Manchester City fell away form-wise in January and February. Chelsea were rarely under any serious pressure, winning the league championship by eight points and wrapping it all up right at the start of May.
The picture changes every week but one thing is clear – there will be new champions. Current holders Chelsea are nowhere near the title scene and, in fact, will do well to even break into the top six following a disastrous first half of the campaign in which they sacked coach Jose Mourinho and hovered around the relegation zone. Another club which might have expected to be involved in the title race has also struggled; Liverpool changed their coach earlier in the season, ditching Brendan Rodgers and replacing him with Jurgen Klopp. Although the The Reds form has been sporadic, hitting relegation certainties Aston Villa for six today has enhanced Liverpool’s march for the top six. Daniel Sturridge’s return from injury will be a welcome boost for the final third of the season.
While two of the Premier League’s powerhouses have underwhelmed, two former winners have stayed in touch and are hoping to still be in contention. Arsenal haven’t won the title since 2003-04 – a drought for which long-serving manager Arsene Wenger has received plenty of criticism over the years – and this current season is their best chance for over a decade to end that barren run.
The palpable sense of tension and frustration around the Emirates during the goalless draw against Southampton and today vs Leicester is probably not constructive for a down to the wire title push, but scoring a last-minute winner will do wonders to lift the team and the fans and make them ‘believe’.
The other flyers from North London, Tottenham, moved up to second on goal difference after travelling to the Etihad Stadium and coming away with all three points. After seemingly creeping up the table under the radar, Pochettino seems to have transformed Spurs into a genuinely solid and assured team. If they can keep their first choice players fit, Tottenham could go all the way.
Manchester City have won just one of their last ten Premier League games against opposition in the top eight this season, and their form seems to have taken an untimely dip since Pellegrini announced that he will be succeeded by Pep Guardiola at the end of the season. Many pundits thought the news would galvanise the Blue side of Manchester to send Manuel off with a bang, but the opposite seems to have happened. Despite the dodgy form, Man City are only six points adrift and a lot can happen in the final twelve games.
Leicester, the dark horses of the season so far, spent much of the previous season fighting just to stay in the league – now they have a serious chance of winning it (they were odds-on favourites at the start of today). Claudio Ranieri’s team – inspired by the goalscoring brilliance of Jamie Vardy and the creative genius of Riyad Mahrez – have been causing shocks all season and become unlikely challengers after a superb run of form throughout October, November, December and January, capped off by a convincing 3-1 drubbing of Manchester City in February.
Although Leicester lost at the final whistle today, they played most of the second half with ten men after Danny Simpson was shown red for a second bookable offence. Despite the loss, Leicester were the best team for much of the game and don’t look like they will fade away.
If Leicester maintain that form, they’re in with a shout alongside Tottenham, City and Arsenal. For supporters of these clubs, the final months of the season will be nervous but for neutrals a closely-fought title race all adds up to an exciting finale.
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