The race for this year’s Barclay’s Premier League title looks like going right to the wire with none of the pre-season favourites able to pull away from the chasing pack after the opening 12 rounds of fixtures. Ger McCarthy analyses the current 3 front-runners and outlines which of those clubs looked best equipped for a tilt at the championship.
Chelsea currently sits atop the summit of the Premier League with 9 victories from 12 fixtures. Despite the loss of midfield talisman Frank Lampard to a long term injury the re-emergence and form of Michael Essien has cushioned the blow so much so that Carlo Ancelotti’s side have spent the majority of the first four months of the season in the top position. Add in the solidity of Jon Obi Mikel and 10 goals from the free-scoring Nicolas Anelka and it easy to see why Chelsea are many pundit’s favourites to win the 2010-11 Premier League.
Ancelotti’s most impressive feat since taking the helm at Stamford Bridge has been the coaching of a much more solid defensive line which has conceded a miserly 5 league goals this term. Didier Drogba has scored 7 times but the Ivoirians’ increased contribution around the pitch and assists has allowed a better spread of goals with Malouda, Anelka and Kalou all benefiting.
In short, Chelsea currently look the side best equipped to go on and win the title. The return of Lampard will add more creativity and an increased goal-scoring threat to a midfield already in rude health.
The surprise 2-0 loss to Liverpool should act as a warning to Ancelloti however, as increased efforts to win the Champions League trophy coveted by the club’s Russian billionaire owner may yet detract from a late season title push. For now though, Chelsea remain the team to beat.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League with 6 wins and 6 draws elevating United into second spot in the standings. The off field dramas surrounding Wayne Rooney have been safely negotiated thanks to the shrewdness of the longest serving Premier League manager. Ferguson has also overcome a crippling injury list and rotated his squad brilliantly to compensate for the loss of Rooney with Berbatov, Hernandez and Nani picking up the slack up front and knocking in 18 goals between them in all competitions.
The ageless Paul Scholes continues to defy the odds in a problem midfield area where Darren Gibson, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher have each failed to sparkle in this season. The return of Rio Ferdinand to partner Vidic in the centre of defence has solidified a defence which has only conceded 13 goals (7 at home). Van Der Sar remains steadfast between the sticks apart from a couple of hairy moments at the start of the campaign.
As with Chelsea, a long run in the Champions League could yet affect United’s title aspirations towards the end of the season but in Sir Alex Ferguson, the Old Trafford club possess the most crucial weapon when it comes to winning England’s most coveted trophy.
The return to form of Wayne Rooney will ultimately dictate United’s title hopes as the England international’s ability to unlock the top defences should see his side firmly involved in the title shakeup come April / May. In the meantime it is crucial United bounce back from a couple of inevitable defeats – while Rooney remains on the sidelines – to keep pace with the likes of Chelsea.
Following a summer of ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ the decision by Cesc Fabregas to remain at the Emirates Stadium rather than transfer back to his native Barcelona should have been the boost Arsenal needed to begin a prolonged assault on the title. Yet another long injury list and a reluctance to address a continuing goalkeeping problem have blunted the Gunners title bid.
The loss of Van Persie and Bendtner would affect any Premier League side but credit to Arsenal who have compensated for the loss of their two first choice strikers with new-signing Chamakh weighing in with 8 goals and the in-form Nasri and Theo Walcott each bagging 7. Arsene Wenger deserves credit for his tactics in compensating for the loss of the likes of Van Persie but the French manager’s decision to stick with Fabianski as his first choice goalkeeper remains baffling.
The fact Arsenal possess the best away record in the Premier League this year is reason enough to mark them down as potential champions. The debut of Jack Wilshire has added a further dimension to the most attack-minded midfield in the country. Van Persie and Bendtner’s return should see a title push maintained until the end of the campaign as long as injuries don’t become a factor and a solid goalkeeper is purchased during the January transfer window.
The nagging feeling that for all Arsenal’s attacking threat they still lack the strength and ability to deal with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United’s pressing game means the Gunners will probably have to settle for runners-up spot or even third place again this season.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.