By Billy Stephens @BillyLaughs @TLE_Sport
The start of the current Premier League season has been more unpredictable than any in recent memory. Chelsea losing seven of their opening twelve games leaves the reigning champions all but out of the title race and, with little to suggest their poor form is coming to an end, hopes of a top four finish already look bleak. So a third of the way into the season, who looks destined for Champions League football next year?
The current favourites at most bookmakers are Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Manchester City are favourites for the title, and with good reason. Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have been two of City’s best players so for this season, and although they cost enough to build a small stadium, City have signed real quality to bolster an already intimidating attack. The Citizens’ expensive acquisitions have been even more welcome considering Sergio Aguero has been out injured since early October, and although they both missed chances in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, the two young attacking midfielders have been impressive with a dozen goals between them in all competitions.
Manchester City are in a strong position to win the league but you always feel they’re a different team when the likes of Kompany and Toure are injured, so keeping everyone fit will be key. Nonetheless I expect them to qualify for the Champions League at a canter.
The other half of Manchester I’m not so confident for. They’ve been winning without playing well which is encouraging, but have been dull to watch on several occasions this season and even their 2-0 victory over West Brom on Saturday was tedious apart from one moment of class by Jesse Lingard as he placed the ball past the keeper from outside the area for his first Premier League goal. United fans demand exciting, attacking football and they haven’t been getting enough of it.
I’ve heard this season described as a ‘transition season’ for Van Gaal’s Manchester United…then what the Falcao was last season? The Red Devils still have the talent to make the top four, but I think they’re a long way off a credible title bid.
Arsenal are the form team having won five league games on the trot coming into last weekend but missed the chance to go top on Sunday as they came from behind to grab a late draw in an entertaining North London derby, dominated for long periods by visiting Tottenham. Many expect Arsenal to mount a serious title challenge this year with the players at their disposal; I mean, if someone told you three and a half years ago that Arsenal would sign Petr Cech, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil you would have thought they were cheating on Football Manager.
Wenger’s men had good opportunities before and after the equaliser, the argument that they’re still a top striker away from real title push was raised again though, as Giroud missed a hat-trick of headers from six yards out. A top striker isn’t something Spurs lack as Harry Kane slotted home his sixth goal in four games to fire them in front against the Gunners after half an hour.
Spurs are another form team, undefeated since the opening day of the season, when they lost to United. Unlike the United boss though, you feel Mauricio Pochettino has his team playing exactly the style he wants, with Tottenham’s fluid, high pressing game gaining plaudits. However, Spurs will need to turn some draws into wins if they want to compete with the league’s elite after being held in six of their twelve encounters this term.
Liverpool are hoping the arrival of Jurgen Klopp can propel them to top four glory, but one Premier League win from his first four matches is hardly an auspicious start for the German. He’s not a magician and it will take time for him put his stamp on the side. I think Klopp will be judged more on what Liverpool achieve next season, but if they put a good run together, who knows?
Southampton also are in with a shot after an impressive beginning to the campaign but what confuses me is that no-one is taking Leicester seriously. I hear a lot of “They’re doing well, but they’ll finish mid-table.”
Why? They are not third by accident. They are not one point off top spot because of an administrative error. Leicester City are there on merit, with a good manager, fantastic pace and a ‘never say die’ attitude. Most importantly, in Jamie Vardy, they have a goalscorer. The England international has 12 goals in 12 Premier League matches and such is his form that rumours are circulating that Real Madrid are interested in his services. They are probably just rumours, but with all of the top English clubs starting inconsistently, there is a chance Vardy and Co. could be lining up against Madrid next season if they can continue their impressive form.