As we’re into a new year…many of us may be forgiven for predicting that the #EPL may not have been as exciting as it was last season, although we may have prayed and wished for it too. Fast forward to Matchday 22 and already the season looks beyond reasonable doubt to be the BEST season in its 11yr history. Truth be told, both sides of the table looks to be heating up as 5 teams vie for the Championship. On the flip side, the gap between the bottom eight teams is a staggering 6-7points all making this season a real spectacle to watch.
For me the Premier League has always been “The League” to watch. The passion, the skills, the goals, the tension during build ups to those big games, the joy and the pain, they all contribute to the reason why I just can’t miss a weekend or midweek round of fixtures. With all due to respect to the Champions League, the #EPL stands alone as the best league competition in the world PERIOD! Yes, the C.L. provides those mouth watering fixtures you only get once in probably a lifetime but the EPL has much more than that. Like the season has showed us so far, it has that tendency of the usual twists and turns, with teams dropping and gaining points when least expected.
Here’s a quick assessment of the major teams so far in my opinion..
Manchester United – “If someone had predicted we would lose this many points I’d have said we would not win the league, that’s for sure.” These are the words of Nemanja Vidic quoted from the Daily Sun newspaper and how true they are. The Red Devils have been far from their best this season drawing 4 of their last 6 away games in the league. As usual the talk of the absence of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez have been brought up game after game after game and yes it is true that these 2 have been missed but one must forget that life must go on with or without them. United’s start to the league was somewhat far from pleasing although they won their 1st game @ home to Newcastle by 3 goals to nil. A result that probably speared the Toons to go on an amazing string of performances until their recent relapses. Indeed United have lacked the cutting edge and killer instinct to finish off teams this season and this was evident in the game away to Birmingham although they had a serious case for the 2 fowls on Rio Ferdinand which was not spotted by neither linesman nor referee. For all their efforts and play it is almost like a dream and unimaginable that they sit on top of the table and UNBEATEN so far in the season. Players such as Nani, Berbatov and Fletcher have had to step into the limelight and produce performances to appease the Old Trafford faithful. A true revelation to the team thus far has been Anderson who seemed to have peaked in form at just the right time United need him to. His midfield performances recently have brought about a certain confidence and trust in him by the manager especially since Scholes who is well into that stage where his legs seem to have taken more than enough is sidelined. The back four has also been solid and there are shades of 2 seasons earlier when Rio & Nemanja formed a formidable duo in the central defense. Like Arsene Wenger though, Sir Alex Ferguson also has that tendency of making the odd selection which turn to be downfall of the team and on New Years day he made one, starting Gary Neville ahead of Rafael/Fabio in the right side of defense. Neville’s careless showed and was somehow unlucky to be punished for the tackle on the West Brom player inside the penalty area. I think Fergie would do all United fans a huge favor by retiring Neville come at the end of the season because as we know. He’s way beyond his time. Up front, United do not seem to have a major problem at the moment with the languid Mr Berbatov scoring for fun if I can call that way. He’s probably playing his best football ever since joining the Red Devils and now with the return of a certain Wayne Rooney partnering him upfront, United seem to be getting into shape for the last half of the season which traditionally is when they start to play more of their normal self. One must not forget young Chicharito who once again on new Years day proved why he’s being severely likened to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with his winner against West Brom. United’s midfield has been the key to their wins so far this season. It’s worth noting that other than Berbatov United have had most of their goals this season coming from the midfield with just 3 coming from the defense. Players such as Park, Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs and Nani have all played their roles and very well so far in the 1st part of the season and with a a stroke of luck in the incidents that have taken place @ Chelsea, suddenly City & Arsenal are the most notable competitors that to United. Caution of complacency must be taken noticed as this United unlike the past successful United teams have a habit to leave it late and concede goals that really should not be conceded. Rooney’s dark days seem to be over and the United front man seems to be getting back to his best. With Antonio Valencia to return next month, Michael Owen back to fitness and Tom Cleverley set to return back to the club after a very successful loan spell at Wigan, United’s depth in squad is sure to take shape and rightfully so considering the number of competitions ahead. The force, onus, omen are with United for now and if they can maintain this kind of run including beating their rivals, then there’s no doubt that trophy number 19 is sure to be @ Old Trafford and there will be nothing sweeter than rubbing it in, in the faces of Lancanshire neighbors Liverpool.
Manchester City – “Arab Money”, has it paid off? This is a particular question a City fan would probably not like to answer till the end of this season but in my honest opinion, it seems to be doing its work so far. Sheikh Mansur promised City fans that he would spend significantly to build a City team that would be contesting for the title and qualify for the Champions League (C.L.). So far so good, they seem to be on course. Sitting in 2nd place, level on points with United and only separated by the difference in goals, the City hopeful couldn’t have wished for anything better than this. I frankly don’t believe in money making a team but with a sense of unity and urgency City have managed to dismiss my opinion and have pulled together probably one of their best season performances in a very long while. The names just roll off your tongue, Tevez, Silva, Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Adam Johnson, James Milner..all star studded and playing with a sense of purpose and determination. In a way it was highly expected of City to mount a challenge this season as last season’s attempt proved futile. Questions still remain over team spirit, unity and experience. These 3 subjects may well decide how the team does in the last half of the season. Winning 5 out of their last 6 games, its fair enough to say it will take a mighty stumble for the Citizens to fall off pace and games that will test their credentials don’t come ant bigger than tomorrow nights game at the Emirates against Arsenal. 3 points in that game and City would not only dent Arsenal’s hope of catching up to the top of the table but also make a serious statement that they are well in, prepared and serious contenders to go all the way for the title. With the players they’ve got why not?? Tevez has been firing in at all cylinders and has got the assists of Yaya Toure mostly to thank for. The former Barcelona player has been an incredible revelation to the team and many of the league’s central midfielders will testify to you already that he’s a very difficult player to mark. We can’t forget about a certain Mr Balotelli who is yet to hit his peak but already has a hat-trick to his name and the likes of Johnson, Silva and De Jong in the midfield. City for now are looking like the real deal but as the rest of the big four teams will testify, the business end of the league is when all will be won and lost and it’s here that your teams character and experience will be put to the mettle. The problem for City is not about who they play but rather how unified and spirited they play. We have already seen Tevez being manipulated by his agent to demand for extra wages by threatening to quit the club. With such instances happening and with the magnitude in terms of financial backing of a team like City, you wonder how soon it will be before other players tend to step up to the plate of petulance in the same manner as the City skipper. Mancini for now needs to remain calm and cool and deal with the situations as they come but you can’t help to think that with a relationship scenario similar to Ancelotti and Abramovic, whether he can really keep the squad together. For now their football must do the talking and the game on Wednesday night will be crucial. 3 points and they would have cemented their status as full contenders for the title.
Arsenal – Well can’t call them the young guns no more now can you? Its amazing how well they have performed this season. They have shown remarkable improvement over their last couple of seasons and are undoubtedly challengers for the title. The rise of key 1st team players, notably Nasri and Alex Song have contributed even more to super performances recently against the likes of Chelsea & Birmingham City. However the main concern of the Gunnars will have to be the consistency in the lineup that Arsene Wenger names for each match. As we witnessed against Wigan lastweek, Arsene paid the price for changing 8 of his 1st team regulars. More of such decisions in the run-in to the title and he and his young guns may just kiss their title ambitions “Au Revoir”. Another department Arsene Wenger will have to look out for for the remainder of this season is his center back pairing. It’s clearly evident that question marks still surround his 12.45million pound duo Squillaci & Koscielny. Up front, Van Persie still lacks that form the Arsenal faithful have become well accustomed to in previous seasons and one must really wonder whether it’s time for him to move on. Arshavin likewise has had a heavy chunk of dip in form and Chamrahk has not quite proved himself to the potential of his purchase, but in all negativity the positives still remain, a hungry Nasri, passionate Fabregas and a full teeth Song combined with an eager Walcott determined to prove himself once and for all that he can handle the pressure when it comes to the games that matter the most can inspire this young Arsenal team to glory provided their rivals slip up within the run-in. Arsenal must heed to this piece of advice that in order to have a clear cut of the Championship within their sights, matches against their title rivals @ the Emirates will be absolutely crucial and pivotal..
Tottenham – Most arguably the surprise contenders for the title this season. Harry Redknapp’s men have undergone an unbelievable growth and evolution and the time seems now for them to challenge for top honors. It seems only a season ago they were involved in a keenly contested battle for the 4th C.L. spot. Amazing how one season makes a difference to a squad’s belief and all around confidence. No doubt that Spurs have been flying from the onset of this season and have translated that sort of high flying string of performances into their C.L. campaign. Hate them or love them, this is a team surely not to be taken for a ride as the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea may have experienced. The team is flaunted with an array of individuals who need no motivation come kick-off time and time and time again this season they’ve showed that attribute. Notable matches for them include that of the great comeback at Arsenal, wins against Liverpool and draw against Chelsea. Players such as Lennon, Modric, Defoe, Huddlestone, Palacios are just a few of the incredible talent Harry Redknapp’s side possess. These players have indeed made their mark on the game this season, but two players who have stood outstanding among the pack are Van der Vaart and Gareth Bale. Van der Vaart amidst his injury problems has so far produced performances which have not been pretty in terms of eye candy display but have produced the results.Scoring 8 in 14 games, there’s no question that if he can stay fit for Spurs then they can really mount a serious challenge for the title. Then there’s Gareth Bale. What a revelation this man has been so far. We all know he has the potential but he has exceeded by far the expectations of not only his team but also that of the masses that have followed his development. His blistering pace combined with his power, accuracy and delivery has made Bale a total all round player which has seen him being transformed from a left back to a more left winger role. For Spurs the key to their success lies in the midfield no question about it. With Modric orchestrating in the heart of the midfield, Lennon & Bale operating on the flanks and Palacios holding the attacks in the midfield, Spurs look definitely like a team that are set to challenge for the title. However consistency and depth in the team may well prove to be either the Achilles heel or strength of their charge. Their form in the past six games have shown that they are well on course in securing another C.L. spot for the 2nd consecutive season. The question is can they keep the consistency?Can they stay injury free or have fewer injuries? It’s a tall order for them to say they’re right in the scalp for the title but in a season that’s been full of twists already, you never know..
Chelsea – The highlight of the season so far has got to be the sudden transformation of Chelsea. For four years they had been by far the best team in the EPL and the stats don’t lie. They started this season in blistering form like last season and even better scoring over 12 goals in their 1st 4 games. Incredibly, they had been tipped to retain the title after just 5 games of the season. Certainly nobody expected what was to follow later on. Ray Wilkinson sacked or as they quoted “relieved of his duties” as assistant coach, injury setbacks to key players such as Terry and Alex who is still out till next month and a massive dip in the form. The Chelsea faithful didn’t expect it and neither did their rivals nor the neutrals also. On the form table they lie 12th racking just a win in their last 6 games. They are a team in crisis and one wonders how long it will be before Ancelotti’s job comes to an abrupt end. Although Chelsea fans may hate to hear this, the gospel truth is the team is within the aging climate. Most players are well within their 30’s and any professional would tell you that once hit that 30 age mark, its up to you the individual to keep fit and healthy. Certain performances this season from the team has evidently shown this fact and this surely should ring a bell to Abramovic that the team needs an overhaul of some sort. Their last game against Villa although showed signs of Chelsea getting back to their normal self but again failure to keep their concentration levels high cost them. Without being disrespectful to the Blues, Villa should and could have won the game. Their desire and aggression to work hard and push the Blues to their limits proved successful and there were times in the game where you thought “Hold on, Villa are in the bottom of the table but they might just win this game” Key positions in the team need to be strengthen if possible during this winter transfer market, notably the right back and central defensive units. Ferreira has been nothing close to best in the right back area and most teams have noticed that fact, Bosingwa as well has not been in the best of forms in that department. With Alex not due back till next month, Ivanovic has been asked to supervise alongside Terry but even he has also fallen victim to the injury curse that has plagued the team and now young Bruma has been asked to fill in. His inexperience like I stated earlier on showed and Ancelotti must do well to get a suitable replacement to fill that void or face more defensive woes. The contest at the top is pretty much shaking up and Ancelotti’s men must step up their bid to recover fully and hold onto what they currently own. With United sitting at the top with 2 games in hand, one being what now may seen as the title decider against Chelsea, the faster they recover, the better it’ll be to their advantage. Some players in the team are still yet to show their potential. Notable names are Ramires and young Bruma who may have been forgiven with the excuse that it was his 1st senior game, but even with that, there’s still no excuse for his unawareness leading up to Emile Heskey’s equalizer for Villa in the last match. The return of Lampard by no means an extra boost to the morale of the team but with that said the front players must also do well to play their part as well. A certain Mr. Drogba who has been out of form due to injuries and illness must show his true character and hunger for success by being more potent in front of goal. Chelsea are by no means out of this race and anyone would be a fool to count them out so soon..
So it promises to be a mouth watering 6months in what is probably dubbed “the last lap” of the season.
Question is who wins it?