While the race for the Barclay’s Premier League title is far from over, it is almost definite that the English Premier League title will be won by either Chelsea and Manchester City.
After the two teams tied 1-1 at Stamford Bridge (the same score as their first meeting at the Etihad), Chelsea are 10 points ahead of 3rd placed Manchester United, while City are 5 points clear of their crosstown rivals. While those point gaps aren’t insurmountable, no team outside of the top two has shown enough consistency and class to sustain the chase for the rest of the season.
But the title race isn’t the only thrilling aspect of the Premier League. There are currently five teams: Manchester United, Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool, who are all jostling for third and fourth. Lets take a look at some of the contenders:
The Red Devils are in their first season under manager Louis van Gaal. A recent run of good form has propelled them into third in the table, but bad home losses to Swansea City (albeit in August) and Southampton exposed some of the side’s frailties.
Why they have reason to be optimistic about their chances: United, despite facing constant transfer rumors, incessant grumbling about the 3-5-2 formation, and pundits questioning van Gaal’s playing of Angel di Maria as a striker and Antonio Valencia as a right back, have been more consistent than the other clubs vying for a top four finish. Wayne Rooney and David de Gea have kept this team afloat, despite streaky showings from the team’s other superstars: Angel di Maria, who hasn’t yet lived up to his enormous price tag, Juan Mata, who plays poorly away from Old Trafford, and Radamel Falcao, who as one of the world’s most feared strikers 12 months ago has only mustered four goals in nine appearances this season. However, they seem to be rounding into form, and Daley Blind’s brilliant showing this weekend against Leicester can only mean more good news.
Projected Finish: 3rd
It’s been a great season for the Saints who, under new manager Ronald Koeman, have performed brilliantly this season despite selling off almost all of their best assets in the summer. I previously wrote an article breaking down why Southampton have been so successful under Koeman, (can you link this to Skylar’s article a few weeks ago about Southampton?) and a lot of it has to do with the individual success of his players: Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle have been revelations, Morgan Schneiderlin has been dominant in midfield, and Jose Fonte and Nathaniel Clyne are in contention to make the league’s best XI team at season’s end.
Why they have reason to be optimistic about their chances: Southampton have sustained success longer than many expected, and a lot of their players have grown more accustomed to Premier League life. Eljero Elia, a Dutch winger, has been very good in his first few matches with the South Coast club, and uber-talented midfielder James Ward-Prowse is back from injury.
Projected Finish: 6th– Eventually, the more talented clubs will overtake Southampton. They’ve been an amazing cinderella story, and may still get to play European football, but they won’t be in the Champions League.
A season ago, the Gunners were in first after Christmas, and looked real contenders to win the league until they were drubbed 5-1 at Anfield. This season, it appears they have regressed significantly. Despite brilliant signing Alexis Sanchez’s blistering start to the campaign, Arsene Wenger’s men have been ravaged by injuries to nearly every conceivable player. Heck, even their first and second choice keepers have spent time injured!
Why they have reason to be optimistic about their chances: Olivier Giroud is in form and healthy again, Theo Walcott scored his first Premier League goal in a year, Mesut Ozil has been very solid since returning from injury, and Arsenal are slowly starting to string positive results together. Progression in the FA Cup also bodes well for the Gunners chances.
Projected Finish: 4th– Because, Arsenal.
Spurs have also exceeded expectations under new management in 2014. Mauricio Pochettino has led them to the League Cup Final, and has uncovered a hidden gem who is now among the most feared strikers in the league: Harry Kane. The 21 year old Englishmen has scored 20 goals in all competitions, and is the biggest reason why Tottenham are challenging for their first Champions League berth since 2011.
Why they have reason to be optimistic about their chances: Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, and Christian Eriksen. The former and the latter have been on scoring tears of late, with Eriksen in particular having a knack for scoring spectacular free kicks and 89th minute winners. Lloris is one of England’s finest goalkeepers, and the deficiencies of the defense in front of him only help unveil just how valuable the Frenchman is.
Projected Finish: 5th– Spurs might not have enough to finish 4th, but a secure spot in the Europa League and some long-awaited managerial stability isn’t a bad bargain at all for the North Londoners.
It was a putrid start to the season for Liverpool. The incredible strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge had been decimated by transfer and injury, respectively. Mario Balotelli has been a decisive failure thus far, Simon Mignolet has been poor in goal, high quality players like Dejan Lovren have underperformed, and they fell at the first hurdle in the Champions League. With captain Steven Gerrard’s imminent departure as the icing on the cake, Liverpool’s season appeared all but lost. But the Reds have quietly won their last three games, and are slowly climbing back into the Champions League picture.
Why they have reason to be optimistic about their chances: Daniel Sturridge, of course. The English striker tallied 25 goals last season, and scored just 12 minutes after coming on as a substitute against West Ham. With Sturridge at full fitness, Liverpool have their best and most dangerous player back. That takes pressure off Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, and can allow them to perform better. Additionally, Brendan Rodgers new back-3 formation has come with positive results.
Projected Finish: 7th— Liverpool, despite getting Sturridge back, lack the gravitas of a true contender. They’ll take the summer to lick their wounds, and hopefully get back into the title picture next season.