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ASSESSING THE TITLE CONTENDERS OF THE 2020/2021 ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON AT THE MIDWAY POINT

The English Premier League season has reached its half-way point and we analyze where the top contenders stand
The English Premier League season has reached its half-way point and we analyze where the top contenders stand

The English premier league has now reached its midway point. Most of the teams have played up to 19 of their 38 games of the season. It has been an interesting race filled with suspense (*coughs* VAR), drama (*coughs* VAR), and exhilaration. Some of the teams predicted to be fighting for the title at the beginning of the season have found themselves struggling in mid-table. Some of the sides predicted to be languishing in mid-table sit in the upper echelons while the usual suspects remain at the bottom of the pile (some things never change eh). We analyze the potential winners of this season’s League title and the disappointing sides so far.

MANCHESTER CITY

At a point in November, Manchester City sat as low as 13th on the table. It is the 26th of January and they have smashed 5 past West Brom. They have the tightest defense in the league (conceded 13) and the second-best attack (36 goals scored). At the beginning of the season, they found it hard to score goals with Sergio Aguero nursing one injury or the other and Gabriel Jesus misfiring. Pep Guardiola has always been a man with incredible football understanding. The easy solution would have been to start screaming out for a striker but he changed the team’s buildup approach instead.

This new approach has added dynamism to their approach play and makes it more difficult to limit them in the first phase. The new approach has taken away the constant search for wide overloads, a system that Pep used with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling as key players. The result? City have won 7 in their last 7 Premier League games, conceding only once (against Chelsea).

Ilkay Gundogan celebrates his goal with his Manchester City teammates in the 5-0 defeat over West Brom

Ruben Dias has been a phenomenal signing at the back for the citizens and the return to form of John Stones is a huge addition for their defense. Speaking about form, Ilkay Gundogan is showing plenty of it. The German midfielder is putting in some of his best performances this season. He scored twice in the demolition of West Brom and has looked unplayable for most of the season. Despite a rocky start, Manchester City look like the most cohesive team in the league right now and they look like the only side strong/consistent enough to make a proper push for the title.

MANCHESTER UNITED

You can spend hours upon hours trying to figure out Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s “tactics” or you can believe he has assembled a good team that wins games and leave it at that. Give them the ball and they might be bereft of ideas but give them space to run into at your peril. The vicious pace of Marcus Rashford can damage any backline and with Bruno Fernandes always eager to find that Hollywood pass, they have become an incredible counter-attacking side. Even with Anthony Martial off the boil, they sit pretty in the second position, a point behind their city rivals. 

The form of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford has made them a solid side that can contend for the title. Form or whatever you call it, they are at the top and competing, that is what matters. The Fred and Scott McTominay pivot provides a solid springboard for attacks but Paul Pogba is slowly playing himself back into the side with some important goals and assists. The return to form of Luke Shaw has also been another interesting development for the side. Crashing out of the UEFA Champions League means they can focus all their efforts on winning the league. A feat they have not achieved since 2013.

The English midfielder is in terrific form, tempering the absence of talisman Jamie Vardy

LEICESTER CITY

Under Brendan Rogers, Leicester City looks dangerous no matter the tactical arrangement. They run for each other and they are deadly in front of goal. The foxes will be hoping they can avoid the final minute disaster of last season when they missed out on Champions League football in the final minute despite it looking guaranteed by the midway point of the season. Their usual talisman Jamie Vardy is advancing with age but the younger lads are stepping up quite well. James Maddison is playing well, so is Youri Tielemans, and new signing Wesley Fofana has been a revelation at the back for them.  If they can qualify for Champions League football this season, it will be a step in the right direction for Rogers who continues to prove himself as one of the best coaches around.

LIVERPOOL

A few weeks ago, it looked like Jurgen Klopp was navigating his side well enough despite the loss of key figures in defense. The problem has shifted from defense to attack (an oversimplification of football intricacies is acknowledged here). Fabinho has fit into the center of defense okay, partnering whoever injuries allow Klopp to field beside him. The problem now is that the famous front 3 is not as devastating as it can be on a good day. Liverpool have not scored a league goal in their last 4 games.

Firmino is never a 30-goal a season striker but 5 goals from a striker at a club trying to challenge for the league title is not good enough. He has missed 8 big chances this season and to make matters worse, his famous linkup play is not as good as it has been in previous seasons. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have tested positive for Covid-19 so far. They have both endured torrid form at different points this season. Both men have gone on their goal droughts, making it hard for Liverpool to produce goals. New man Diogo Jota is injured, forcing Xherdan Shaqiri to get more game time, but no goals from there either.

Winless in their last 4 EPL matches, Jurgen Klopp must be wondering what he needs to do to get his side firing again. He will be hoping that Salah’s 2 goals in the FA Cup will give them some sort of boost. Liverpool sit 7 points off Manchester City and with games against Tottenham and high-flying West Ham coming next, that gap might extend. However, it will be idiotic to count the current champions out now.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS

Jose Mourinho and his side led the table at one point but back to back losses to Liverpool and Leicester City dropped them down the table. Spurs sit 8 points off the top with a game in hand. The lethal combination of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son continues to terrorize Premier League defenses. New signings like the tenacious Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and the darting Sergio Reguilon have given the side a major boost. Record signing Tanguy Ndombele is finally dominating matches the way he did in France with Lyon and he is adding goals to his game. Something that the Lyon faithful always felt he could improve on. There are still cardio issues but Mourinho is managing fine. Mourinho is known for bringing titles in his second season and Tottenham is due one now. It may not be the Premier League trophy but they look up to something.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

Thomas Tuchel takes his first training session in charge of Chelsea, the London club has been a disappointment in the league leading to the dismissal of Frank Lampard

Arsenal and Chelsea have been the biggest disappointments so far in the title race. The FA Cup holders were looking bright and optimistic after Mikel Arteta brought home their favorite piece of silverware but their season has not lived up to scratch. Even though they are currently in great form (won 6 of their last 7), their early-season form makes their run a bit late. Youngster Bukayo Saka continues to deliver fantastic performances for the side and Alexander Lacazette is in a rich vein of form. The Frenchman has 8 goals in this campaign. Another youngster has been at the heart of the improvement in performances and his name is Emile Smith Rowe. Taking up the “number 10” position, he links midfield with attack. A trick that Arsenal was missing during their early-season barren run.

After spending 220 million great British Pounds on players, Chelsea find themselves in 10th place at the halfway point. Chelsea took the ill-timed yet necessary decision to upgrade on Frank Lampard. In comes the notorious nerd Thomas Tuchel and they will be hoping he can turn their fortunes around. Chelsea have a bloated squad and it will be interesting to see the changes the German will bring to the side. They have been the major disappointments of the season but Roman Abramovich will be desperate to see some improvements.

THE SURPRISE PACKAGES

6ft4 Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek has made an incredible impact on the high-flying West Ham under David Moyes

To call Everton “surprise packages” based on the investment that has been poured, the caliber of coach they have, and the level of some of their players is a tad disingenuous. They started the season well enough, topping the table at one point. Everton have since tailed off but remain in a good position to pull themselves back up. The Merseyside club sits 9 points off the top but they have 2 games in hand and this can spring them to a really good position.

Carlo Ancelotti and his men are keeping themselves in the good spots thanks to the goals of center-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The 23-year-old striker has 11 goals and is in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot. James Rodriguez started the season in sparkling form but has not provided much in recent weeks after an injury kept him out of the side. Richarlison is still struggling for consistency, but on his day, he is a terrific forward.

The other surprise package of the season has been David Moyes’s West Ham. After a rocky career journey since he left Manchester United, the Scotsman is finally doing what he knows how to do best, taking an average side and making them overachievers. And he is doing it in a league he knows well too. Despite a directionless market strategy, Moyes is still managing to extract immense performances from the core of his squad.

Their latest match was a win against fellow Londoners Crystal Palace with Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek scoring twice. The giant in the middle defends the ball in his box and gets goals for himself in the opposition box. Captain Declan Rice has also been putting in some fantastic performances beside him in the middle. Michail Antonio has also contributed 5 goals with the little game time he has gotten due to the presence of Sebastian Haller (now of Ajax) and injuries. The Hammers sit in fourth place and it is a testament to the brilliant work that Moyes is doing. Champions League qualification may be too much to ask but they can secure Europa League qualification at this rate.

3 COMMENTS

  1. […] Liverpool have struggled this season with injuries to key players and disruptions on different levels. Salah and Mane have suffered from bouts with Covid-19 which affects professional athletes more than they have been willing to admit. But Liverpool continue soldiering in their quest to keep up the pace at the top. The performance against Tottenham was not their greatest but they fought for their win and got their result. Their front 3 will be a major reason for wherever they end up on the table. They will be more decisive than their non-existent central defense. […]

  2. […] Tottenham started the season like a team ready to challenge for the title but their fire has burnt out. Since the first half against Liverpool when Harry Kane limped off and did not come back out for the second half, Tottenham have looked dour and lacking in ideas. Against Chelsea, they struggled to progress the ball outside of Tanguy Ndombele’s natural midfield thrust. Their ball progression was tepid and it looked like they were always waiting for Kane to drop deep so he could find Son Heung-Min with one of his trademark balls. […]

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