Posted on November 9th, 2016
The general consensus among footballing pundits is that after ten Premier League matches we are provided with a good indicator of how the league could look at the end of the season. Going into the third international break after eleven rounds of fixtures, England’s top flight certainly looks as though it is taking shape. Only a point separated the top five sides after nine games, meaning it was the closest scrap at that stage in the league’s history. Now, Liverpool top the tree on 26 points, but Arsenal in fourth on 24 are still hot on their heels. In these early stages, which team is making the most convincing case that they have what it takes to go on and win it?
It's tight at the top… pic.twitter.com/9iVXO7we2A
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 24, 2016
Jürgen Klopp’s “heavy metal” football philosophy is well and truly in place on Merseyside now, and it could be argued that the Reds are even more entertaining now than they were when they nearly clinched the title in the 2013/14 season. Brendan Rodgers’ side scored a whopping 101 goals in that campaign, and the way things are going, Klopp’s charges could surpass that record. The current Liverpool squad have scored 30 goals already, and are averaging around 2.7 goals per game. If they kept up this strike rate for the whole of the season they would go on to accumulate 103 goals.
The free-flowing attack has Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Adam Lallana all chipping in with goals (see below), and defences are struggling to deal with these exceptional players that can create and score just as easily. There are also options to mix things up in attack should other teams work out a way to shut out these potent attackers. Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi provide alternatives, and Georginio Wijnaldum can also be pushed forward into the attacking trident should one of the key men suffer injury.
Liverpool don’t have any European commitments to contend with, and therefore the team sheet will not be prone to much rotation. Now Klopp has struck on his ideal formula, it is unlikely that he will deviate from it much for the Premier League fixtures. The last two Premier League champions have shown the value in having a settled squad, as both Chelsea and Leicester City made the fewest changes to their team sheets out of all the clubs in the league in their respective title charges. The average odds on oddchecker have Liverpool at 5/2 to win the league this season, and up to this point they have looked most likely to achieve this goal. For a team with such a rich history, a league trophy is long overdue. Could this be their time?
Chelsea are also looking like real challengers, and have transformed into an unstoppable force in the last few weeks. Antonio Conte has made bold moves in dropping Branislav Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas, and his tactical switch to a 3-4-3 system has paid dividends.
Since the formation switch, the Blues have won each of their last five league games emphatically. They have tightened up in defence and conceded no goals, and their attackers are leaving opponents for dead. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have found the form that made them so integral to Chelsea’s title win two seasons ago, and the acquisition of N’Golo Kante in midfield has enabled Nemanja Matic (see video below) to storm forward more frequently and provide assists. The Serb has created six goals already this season, which is equal to his output from his previous two campaigns combined. Matic is proving that he can fill in for Fabregas in the playmaker role, but also get back and defend when necessary.
Like Liverpool, Chelsea don’t have a European tournament to contend with, and will be focusing purely on the league. In Conte, they have a highly ambitious manager who won the domestic title in his first three seasons in charge at Juventus, and he gained the reputation of being a defensive mastermind. Now that the Italian has struck on the perfect combination it will be interesting to see how Chelsea’s top rivals attempt to break through their resolute backline. How Conte negotiates the tough fixtures coming up against Tottenham Hotspur and City should provide more evidence of his team’s title credentials.
After winning his first ten matches in charge at City, Pep Guardiola came unstuck against a determined Celtic side in the Champions League where the Citizens only managed to draw 3-3. Since then City have lost three and drawn three in all competitions, and proven that they are not the invincible machine that many had predicted they would be under the former Bayern Munich boss. Although the Manchester side were brought back to reality after flying high, they are still the side to beat on their day. When everything clicks and the players are on form they can be unstoppable, as they showed in the 4-0 annihilation of West Brom and the outstanding 3-1 victory over Barcelona.
There is a sense that the players are still getting to grips with Guardiola’s tactics and working out what their new roles are in the side. For example, the Spaniard has asked Sergio Aguero to work harder in pressing the other team while City are not in possession. The Argentine said: “I’m getting used to him and automatically going straight into pressing the centre-backs.”
After being dropped from the starting XI for Everton’s visit to the Etihad and City’s trip to the Camp Nou, some were speculating whether the prolific frontman had fallen out of favour with the new boss. But since then Guardiola has gone on to say that he thinks Aguero is a special player (see video above), and the player himself has proceeded to score three goals in his last two Premier League outings.
When Guardiola strikes on his winning formula, City will be a dangerous force in the league. But will he be able to achieve that when he also has to heavily rotate his squad around Champions League fixtures?
The Gunners have gone an agonisingly long time since their last league win, which has prompted many to question whether it is time for Arsene Wenger to leave the club. The Frenchman is in the final year of his contract, and if he wants to earn a renewal he will have to win something big. The league is his best chance, and up until the drab stalemate against Spurs, the Emirates side were flying. For once, Arsenal haven’t been plagued with injuries to key players, and Wenger has a wealth of options at his disposal.
Wenger decided to field Alexis Sanchez as the sole striker this term, and it has been a masterstroke. The Chilean has scored 6 goals (see above) and made 4 assists, and his linkup play with Theo Walcott has been outstanding. This seems to be the manager’s preferred attack force now, with Olivier Giroud in reserve to be used as an impact sub. Mesut Ozil has also found his best form in an Arsenal shirt, and the magical playmaker has begun to add more goals to his game.
Arsenal certainly have the manpower, but they also have a history of folding when the pressure gets too much. In addition to that, they have Champions League commitments. If they top their group then they could go deeper in the competition than they have for years, which could bring about more squad rotation and the inevitable injuries.
As it stands, it’s anyone’s guess which team will win the league, and all these sides are capable of doing it. Then there’s the others who are battling to break into the top four. Let’s not forget Mauricio Pochettino’s superb Spurs side, and Jose Mourinho could easily creep back up with Manchester United. This season is shaping up to be an absolute cracker.