Last season’s title race was undoubtedly one of the most competitive in the history of the Premier League. Each of the top 4 in Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal were firm favourites at some point or the other in the campaign, and though City ran out winners in the end, the other three had good reason to feel justifiably aggrieved.
This season though, everything seems different. City and Chelsea look to be runaway contenders for the title, as Arsenal and Liverpool’s faltering starts see them playing catch-up already.
Assuming Chelsea and City are guaranteed finishers in the top 4, there is set to be a real scrap for the other two spots among a whole host of other teams.
The Usual Suspects
Liverpool, last season’s runner-up, have been beaten thrice in the opening 5 games, and are currently 11th. Arsenal, on the other hand, crept into the top 4 after their victory over Aston Villa last week, but have struggled to find top form. City’s start too, hasn’t been great, but they are expected to get their season back on track in the coming weeks.
Manchester United’s revival under Louis Van Gaal, after last season’s 7th-place finish, has got off a terrible start. The Red Devils have only one 1 game in their opening 5 fixtures, and find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Despite spending over $200 million in the transfer window on players such as Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Daley Blind, United seem to have lost the ‘fear-factor’ as every team that faces believes they can be beaten.
Everton have also won just once and currently lie in 14th, while Tottenham Hotspurs’ season, just like so many before, has been a stunning epitome of inconsistency. Following a fantastic start, Mauricio Pochettino’s men are now winless in 3 games, and have slipped from 1st to 9th.
The two remaining Champions League spots, therefore, are up for grabs, big-time. Southampton and Aston Villa are currently in the top 3. Though the latter are expected to fade away, the former are showing signs of developing into a top side. Despite the loss of so many players in the transfer window, the Saints have been mightily impressive under Ronald Koeman thus far, and are only looking like improving in the coming weeks.
Another team that has impressed one and all is Swansea City. They may have lost their last 2 games and slipped out of the top 4 in the process, but Garry Monk’s side have been right up there with Chelsea in terms of performance-levels this season. They beat Man United on the opening day of the season at Old Trafford, and gave an extremely good account of themselves at Stamford Bridge two weeks back.
Dogfight In Store
It will take something close to a miracle to keep either City or Chelsea out of the top 4. Therefore, the equation is quite simple – 2 places, 6 teams. This means that we are set for a real dogfight among the other contenders for Champions League football. Liverpool and Arsenal will not want to drop out, as it would signal a step back after last season, while United’s inability to qualify will definitely put question marks over Van Gaal, after his spending spree in the summer.
Tottenham and Everton have for long been the pretenders, and will be keen to take that one step up, even though early signs are not encouraging for either side. Swansea and Southampton look very good, but history has shown that such teams have often faded away as the season progresses.
Whatever happens, it looks like we have a season full of excitement and drama in store ahead, and the race for Champions League football may well go right down to the wire.