The Premier League has been very interesting this season. I would not say it was of great quality and there has been displays of mediocrity from all the teams. No one team has stood out for consistently very good or effective football.
As a result the gulf from the good to the bad is more distinct than ever before.
The top of the table is the most intriguing it has been for years. The top managers have intimated that five or six teams are potential winners. A closer look however will see that only three teams have a realistic chance of winning the title. The real surprise in this has been Arsenal who have overcome various setbacks to find themselves topping the table and justifiably so.
Arsenal’s success has come thanks to the Ozil impact, but their star player in the first half has been more Aaron Ramsey than anyone else. In recent matches other players have stood up to be counted, which is very encouraging for the team with the thinnest squad in the title run-in. The run of games, and their mental fortitude to this stage makes them likely title winners, which no one seriously considered at the start of the season.
What has been of interest, however, is how the two other teams have remained in touch at this critical stage of the season. Chelsea have been all about Mourinho and his interesting team selections. He’s done something different to the last time he was at the club. He’s endeavoured to adjust to the attacking midfield options open to him, but to date his side has been misfiring especially up front. Yet they have also played some canny football to escape Old Trafford and the Emirates with clean sheets and a point. They have done this hinting that the best is yet to come from them, which is ominous.
Pellegrini has particularly adjusted to the Premier League very well. He’s dealt with the expectation and the pace of the Premier League enough for his side to still be the team expected to pick up the trophy at the end of the season. City have had some dominating home wins against their key opponents, except Chelsea. Their away form, however, cannot be overlooked, and their toughest away games are scheduled to take place in the second half of the season.
Middling Matters – Underachievers and Overachievers
If you are Southampton or Newcastle United, you can look back on the first half of the season with satisfaction. Both clubs finished last season grateful to survive in the Premier League. Though they’ve had their ups and downs, and in Southampton’s case, they are certainly suffering at present, their overall approach to the first half of the season has virtually seen them assure another season of Premier League football.
Hull City fans should be mildly pleased as well with where they are in the table. Like most teams recently promoted the main aim is to stay there, and Steve Bruce has done well so far in achieving that goal.
If there are clubs who should be disappointed chief among them should be West Ham United. Unlike other teams last season, they should have started this season confident of being among the better teams in the lower half of the table. The manner in which their season has been a virtual wash out so far and has plunged them into the relegation battle is a tale of bungled management at all levels. Where half a dozen other clubs in the Premier League have changed their managers, it’s baffling how the Allardyce Effect has seen the owners keeping the faith with the man whose self-opinion is substantial.
The plight of Manchester United could be predicted. New manager and new chief executive, a side that was not the strongest United side ever getting used to the new guy. Transition is inevitable. They may not be contenders for the title, but they’re not going to have as bad a season as some have thought. If they finish in the top 4 it will be a good first season for the new guy. Their performances when there have been wins have not set the world alight, but their recent run of wins bode well and Moyes prefers second half of seasons to first half.
The Relegation Scrap
The bottom of the table is almost as interesting as the top. Some have already written off Sunderland, yet bearing in mind they are 4 points away from the team in 15th and there’s enough time for teams to suffer severe dips, that decision to write Sunderland off might be misguided. Crystal Palace appear to have made a savvy decision bringing in Tony Pulis to see if he can work the miracle.
Meanwhile sides like West Brom, Fulham and Cardiff are apt for being sucked into the mire with new management taking their time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League. As for teams like Norwich and Aston Villa, their rather tepid style of football might only see them survive because there are even worse teams in the table.
I predicted Chelsea would win the league, and I’m happy to stick with that prediction because of the canny way in which Mourinho has negotiated the season so far. The other teams in the top four should certainly include Man City and Arsenal. That leaves the race for fourth place all the more interesting, especially with Everton, Liverpool, Spurs and United being the likely competitors for that one place. Experience would tend to give the likelihood to United to just about nick it, but there’s enough football to play to make it up for grabs.
As for who will go down, I was expecting the teams who got promoted to go straight down, but the way certain other teams are imploding, that is far from likely now. At least one of the promoted clubs will stay up, which is not really a credit to the quality of the Premier League football. I actually believe Sunderland can mount enough of a run to just about escape the bottom three. With that in mind I reckon the three clubs that will be relegated will be Cardiff, Fulham and Crystal Palace.
C. L. J. Dryden