How long can Dele Ali and Harry Kane sustain their unbelievable form? Just when will Louis Van Gaal finally be shown the door? And do Arsenal really have the ability to clinch the title for the first time in 12 years?
These are just a handful of questions that need to be addressed in the latter stages of what has been a confusing, enthralling roller-coaster of a season thus far, and has provided us with perhaps the most intriguing title race we have witnessed for many years. This topsy-turvy campaign has so far witnessed a total of 608 goals, 18 injuries to Daniel Sturridge and 14 defeats for Aston Villa, who are now definitely destined for the drop.
But let’s begin at the top of the league with current leaders Leicester City. Claudio Ranieri has remarkably transformed these previous relegation strugglers into competent title challengers this season. Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy has delivered 16 league goals for the Foxes whilst the artful left wand of Riyad Mahrez has conjured up 14, propelling Leicester into another dimension.
“It would not be unreasonable to include them in a top four finish, however retaining 1st position may prove more of a challenging prospect for the Midlands club”
The pair, along with reliable Danny Drinkwater and the adventurous Mark Albrighton, represents a devastating attacking force for Ranieri’s side. Many neutrals are now considering Leicester as genuine title favourites. It would not be unreasonable to include them in a top four finish, however retaining 1st position may prove more of a challenging prospect for the Midlands club as the relentless form of their key players could begin to fade as the season goes on.
Whilst we’ve witnessed the Foxes’ astonishing rise, the Gunners also appear to have mounted a serious title campaign so far for the first time in a decade. With Giroud bagging 18 goals in all competitions, Sanchez returning from injury and Ozil leading the assist chart, the attacking contingent are firing on all cylinders. Defensively they have been equally sound. Cech has proven a very successful acquisition for Arsene Wenger, keeping 11 league clean sheets so far; Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker continue to forge a great understanding, whilst Hector Bellerin is growing in confidence.
With the absence of big guns Chelsea and United from the title race this season, surely this will be Arsenal’s year. Despite their habit of blowing things at the last moment, all the ingredients are present this year for Wenger to bring Premier League silverware back to the Emirates.
“The defence has been missing their illustrious captain Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart’s form between the sticks has been mediocre at best, whilst a catalogue of errors has characterised the recent performances of centre backs Elaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi”
As for Manchester City, it has been a season of disappointing inconsistencies for many fans who regarded them to be title favourites at the start of the 2015/16 campaign. On the one hand, the formidable trio of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling have hit tremendous form, and are involved in everything positive that City create as they have scored 38 of the 45 total goals for Pellegrini’s team this season. On the other, the defence has been missing their illustrious captain Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart’s form between the sticks has been mediocre at best whilst a catalogue of errors has characterised the recent performances of centre backs Elaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi. The Eastlands club will finish the season in third position, where they are at the moment.
For Spurs, like Leicester, 2015/16 has been a year of rejuvenation. Pochiettino has transformed this outfit into top four and maybe even title challengers. Dele Alli has graced the Premier League with some magical moments thus far, as has the clinical Harry Kane, who has scored 16 times this campaign; Christien Eriksen and Nacer Chadli have also been in great form.
Hugo Lloris has also only picked the ball out of the net 19 times this season, the lowest number of goals conceded by any team in the Premiership. With a formidable spine of the team and an encouraging contingent of young Englishmen, Tottenham have the potential to mount a serious title push.
The North London derby in March will be the most important clash between Spurs and Arsenal for several seasons. Spurs will unquestionably finish in the top four, whether they will beat their rivals to the title is less likely, I think they will finish 2nd come May.
As for the chasing pack, dire performances at Old Trafford and a lack of inspiration from anywhere around the club has heaped pressure onto Louis Van Gaal. It will surely be only a matter of time before he is replaced. It has been another season of underachievement for the Red Devils, a late flurry of goals from Rooney and Martial may help them finish in 5th or 6th.
Dmitri Payet and Kouyate have worked wonders for West Ham this season, as have Jack Butland, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic for Mark Hughes’ Stoke; the Potters and Hammers brought well in the summer and have progressed immensely this season. It is doubtful they will do enough to play in Europe next year, however.
“The adventurous play of the likes of Sadio Mane, Shane Long and James Ward-Prowse have been tearing defences apart this season”
The other Europa League places are likely to be filled by Southampton and Liverpool. The Reds have had an enigmatic start to Jurgen Klopp’s tenure at Anfield with emphatic victories away at Chelsea and Norwich evened out with defeats to West Ham and Watford. The form of Roberto Firmino will be vital to securing Europa League football, as will avoiding more casualties to an already injury-hit squad.
Southampton have produced some fantastic football under Ronald Koeman at St Mary’s. The adventurous play of the likes of Sadio Mane, Shane Long and James Ward-Prowse have been tearing defences apart this season, and as long as they keep up their quality attacking displays they should secure 6th or 7th spot.
As for the relegation zone, the task of recovering Aston Villa from their desolate position seemed impossible from the moment Rene Garde took over. With just 2 wins all season and a 10-point gap between them and safety, the Villains surely have no chance of avoiding demotion to the second tier.
The other two relegation spots will most likely be occupied firstly by Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland. The Black Cats have shown serious defensive frailties, conceding 46 goals all season, the most of any top-flight club. This factor has been their main downfall this season and means they are also destined for the drop.
Norwich appear to be on a downward spiral, in losing four of their last six games. Unless Alex Neil has purchased a more prolific striker than Cameron Jerome in the transfer window, the Canaries have little chance of staying up. For me they are going straight back to the Championship.
It is possible that Newcastle have what it takes to make a great escape, with new signings Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend looking to provide the cutting edge they have been lacking in the first half of the season and help steer them to safety.
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