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With the English Premier League now beyond its halfway stage, the table is as tight as it has ever been. But who are likely to be the winners and losers in the title race and the battle for the Champions League places come May?
Arsenal have led the way for much of the campaign despite very few observers and football betting pundits giving them much of a chance of staying there come the business end of the season. The Gunners are certainly in the mix, though, and in the shape of Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, and Olivier Giroud – to name just four – they have players of renowned quality who can hurt anyone.
However, it is the presence of freescoring Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on their shoulders that will have Arsene Wenger worried. And he should be because the sheer depth and quality in both of their squads means, across 38 games, they have more options than the rest and the look of real title contenders.
With just about four months of the season left, it is usually around this time that the pattern of the run-in begins to emerge and, despite just nine points separating the top six sides, it would take a brave person to suggest the title winners will come from anyone other than City, Chelsea, or Arsenal. As we head into March and April, expect a titanic tussle between the three before Chelsea and City eventually move clear in the latter stages.
Prediction: Overall, City are tipped to prevail, just ahead of Chelsea in second, to leave Wenger’s men down in a disappointing third place.
On the basis of the above title race assessment, we are assuming the top three will be made up of City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, so there is an almighty fight on for that coveted fourth place and the final Champions League spot.
Liverpool are clinging onto it at the moment but there is plenty of pressure coming from local rivals Everton, Spurs, and Manchester United to suggest it will come down to one from four for fourth. Brendan Rodgers’ side have shown enough this season to suggest that they can stick it out and, while a small squad is being tested by injuries, with players of the calibre of Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez to call upon, they can finish the season well.
Everton, meanwhile, have been very impressive under Roberto Martinez, who has been particularly astute in the transfer market on a limited budget. Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have been oustanding so far, while the emergence of Ross Barkley has given them more steel and creativity in midfield. Add to that, on-loan Barcelona youngster, Gerard Deleufeo, being close to a return, and you have a squad brimming with a good mix of youth and experience, desperate to prove they should be considered genuine top-four contenders.
Spurs also have designs on a return to Europe’s premier club competition and, under new boss, Tim Sherwood, appear to have found a new lease of life. In the early months of the season, the Londoners struggled to adapt to life without last season’s talisman, Gareth Bale, and the new signings had simply not settled. But after Andre Villas-Boas’ departure, things have looked a lot more positive. Emmanuel Adebayor looks every inch the prolific striker he was once at Arsenal, while plenty more is expected from Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado in the months to come. Whether they have enough to land fourth amid such stern competition is doubtful, though.
And that leaves United. David Moyes’ first season in charge at Old Trafford has not gone to plan so far and damaging home defeats against West Brom, Everton, and Newcastle – plus a deserved 3-1 reverse at Chelsea – has cast them adrift in the title race. It will also take a big improvement to muscle in on fourth now but, following the big capture of Juan Mata this month – a statement signing if ever there was one – they should at least be much better in the run-in.
A good prediction for people placing a bet on football is Liverpool to edge out Everton to seal a Champions League return, while an improving United also just miss out and Spurs flounder further back.