The State of the Premier League
The race for the top 4 in England’s Premier League is ever-changing. Manchester City has all but won the title already, but the rest of the top 6 can’t seem to figure out their identities. Let’s go through my mid-season picks, and assess who’s going to finish in the coveted Champions League qualifying positions.
Manchester City – 1
There’s not much that really needs to be said here. City has been running on all cylinders since day one. Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sané are tied for most assists (10). David Silva sits in 4th (8). Sergio Agüero continues his dominance of the Premier league this year with 16 goals, while Raheem Sterling sits right behind him having scored 14.
Pep Guardiola’s biggest achievement so far has been rebuilding the back line with the signings of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Benjamin Mendy, and Danilo. The addition of Ederson as their keeper has created a solid defense that is able to absorb pressure and hit you on the counter. They have been able to dominate everyone they have played this year, and their only true slip up was losing to Liverpool last weekend. I don’t see them falling enough to not win the title. This team is simply too good.
Manchester United – 2
As much as it pains me to say, Jose Mourinho has collected a strong group of players who will help Manchester sit in one of the top two positions in the league. Paul Pogba is getting more comfortable, and his partnership with good friend Romelu Lukaku is flat out dangerous. With the re-signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the continued improvement of youngsters Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, the United strike force is a formidable one. And this doesn’t include the pending addition of Alexis Sanchez. That is downright scary.
On the other end of the pitch, David de Gea continues to prove that he is the best keeper on the planet. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and the rest of the United defense has continued to play solid football. The biggest problem with this team is when Mourinho decides to park the bus. Although he has a team full of inspiring players, he has a tendency to play some pretty uninspiring football just to grind out some close wins. That said, it’s a tactic that has worked for him time and again, and I don’t see it causing him any major issues through the rest of the season.
Liverpool – 3
Jurgen Klopp’s defense been laughable at times this season. Back in October, Dejan Lovren was subbed off inside the first 30 minutes against Spurs. That’s unheard of. Fast forward to now, and the completion of Virgil Van Dyke’s transfer seems to have helped solidify an otherwise dangerous area for the Reds. Couple this with the growth of young fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, and suddenly Liverpool’s weakest link is building up to be one of its greatest strengths.
The loss of Phillipe Coutinho in January honestly surprised me. I thought he was going to ride out this year, the best Liverpool has played consistently in quite some time, and make the move to Barcelona in the summer. I was wrong. He left. And this would most certainly spell doom for most other teams. Not this Liverpool team, though. They are resilient.
Take a look at last week’s win over Manchester City. With Coutinho’s departure, someone needed to step up and be the talisman in that number 10 role. With the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, and Mohamed Salah, you can see there are options.
The Reds’ Secret Weapon
Yet it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, in his first season with Liverpool, who stepped up to the plate. Ox came to Liverpool with a chip on his shoulder. He constantly felt he was being played out of position at Arsenal. His ideal is to play through the middle. Coutinho’s departure paved the way for that. If he can continue that high intensity and continue to prove he should be in the starting XI, I think he can be Klopp’s key. Obviously Mohamed Salah is destroying the competition, and will continue to challenge Tottenham’s Harry Kane for the Golden Boot. However it’s Ox that I think can help fill the void of Phil and help Liverpool to a second straight top 4 finish.
Tottenham Hotspur – 4
Spurs didn’t quite prove themselves against Southampton this past weekend. The absence of playmaker Christian Eriksen was a noticeable one. Spurs have struggled with injuries this year, seeing first team players Erik Lamela, Toby Alderweireld, Victor Wanyama, and Danny Rose miss a significant amount of time. Take aside the fact that I’m all but convinced Rose has played his last game for Spurs. The other three are either back or very close. Lamela and Wanyama have both been racking up the minutes off the bench as of late, and Toby looks to be returning soon. And just in time.
Tottenham has a killer run coming up in the Premier League. Their next 3 matches are at home to United, away to Liverpool, and at home to Arsenal. It’s absolutely critical they pick up at least 7 points in that run in order to keep pace with the rest of the pack. This is a tall task, but one that manager Mauricio Pochettino’s team has stood up to over the past couple years.
Dele Alli hasn’t been at his best. Harry Kane has. It’s only January and Kane is already sitting on 20 league goals. That’s absolutely mad. Heung-Min Son and Eriksen have been strong performers, but could show a bit more consistency. When you have Eriksen, Son, Dele, and Kane all making interchanging runs toward the box, they are nearly impossible to defend. Kane will find a way to either find the back of the net or draw enough coverage to set one of his teammates up to score.
The Key to Spurs’ Success
The main key however to Tottenham finishing in this 4th spot or better is the return of Alderweireld. His partnership with Jan Vertonghen is arguably the best in the league. Toby plays anchor and Jan is able to run to create space. His return will also allow Poch more flexibility to transition back to utilizing three in the back (Jan, Toby, and youngster Davinson Sánchez). This allows the wingbacks to fly. Although it opens up the opportunity for an opponent to counter, it’s difficult to defend against. Ultimately, Spurs find a way to smother the competition, get Kane a goal or two, and grind out a deserved win.
Chelsea – 5
They’re hanging in right now, but Antonio Conte is losing this team. He’s looking for the likes of Peter Crouch or Andy Carroll to fill a void at striker. No offense to Crouchie (full offense to Carroll), but they aren’t the kind of guys who are going to propel you to the next level. If you look at their nail-biting victory in PKs against Norwich in the FA Cup, there’s proof that this team lacks a true strike force and legitimate identity. Pedro and Morata both were sent off after two yellows a piece in that match. If Conte can’t rally the troops soon, they’re a lost cause.
Arsenal – 6
The Alexis Sanchez saga has been an absolute poison for Arsenal for the past two seasons. Arsene Wenger is set in his ways and has failed to do much to please the fans short of bringing in Alexandre Lacazette over the summer. That said, he can’t be the Gunners’ savior. With Sanchez almost definitely heading to United and Henrikh Mkhitaryan coming the other way, that adds some intrigue to Arsenal’s season. Even more interest sits with the idea that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be heading to Arsenal as well. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang had a couple of stellar seasons with Borussia Dortmund, and the prospect of them reuniting in North London could propel the club into that 4th spot. However, that doesn’t solve the Mesut Özil saga. If Özil gives up on this season and decides to move on, the Gunners will be lucky to finish 6th.
- / 1 year ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.