The 2018-19 Premier League campaign has been one of the hardest to predict in years. We’ve already seen the side at the top of the table swap numerous times as Liverpool and Man City constantly scrap for superiority. Yet again, City now appear to be favourites to retain their title after Klopp’s men drop points in games they would have expected to win. Meanwhile, the fight for Champions League football is one that’s also everchanging. United, Chelsea and Arsenal are doing their best to claim 4th spot whilst Tottenham have too been brought into the equation following a few underwhelming performances.
Starting at the top, Manchester City have had their fair share of slip ups this season, something which saw them having to play catch up to former leaders Liverpool. Although they ideally wouldn’t have found themselves in this position to start with, they’ve done a stellar job to have made up the deficit with a large chunk of the season still to play. It’s credit to Guardiola’s men who still remain in three competitions and have already claimed the Carabao Cup title. Whilst all sides will want to compete for as many trophies as possible, reaching the late stages does have its downsides. Some might argue that City have been somewhat fortunate in terms of the teams they’ve been drawn to play in various competitions. The final against Chelsea was the only game in the Carabao Cup that looked it could pose City any real problems. Their ride in the FA Cup has so far been just as smooth when compared to the likes of Manchester United, for example, who defeated both Arsenal and Chelsea away from home in successive rounds. The Champions League has been no different. Yes, no tie in Europe’s most elite competition is going to be easy but Schalke were certainly one of the easier teams City could have faced at this stage. Having said this, regardless of opponent, just the sheer accumulation of games is something that would be extremely demanding for any team and, on the whole, City have so far handled it well. We don’t particularly associate Manchester City with the ability to grind out results, but they’ve shown they possess that in beating their two latest opponents, West Ham and Bournemouth, 1-0. We’ve grown used to seeing them score 3, 4, 5 goals a game and just because they haven’t done that in recent times doesn’t mean they haven’t performed well. Being able to repeatedly win games by small margins was crucial to Leicester’s miraculous season under Ranieri, and if City can continue to do the same then there’s no reason why they won’t retain the Premier League title.
Liverpool, on the other hand, appear to be lacking in this department dropping points in games they simply must and would expect to win. This might be a surprising statement considering they’ve faced difficult trips to fierce rivals Manchester United and Everton but United had a number of key injuries and Liverpool are simply a better side than Everton, irrespective of the occasion. When they played against United they didn’t even really come close to scoring; this was not the case in the Merseyside derby. Klopp’s men had a number of clear chances; Salah should and would have had at least two goals were he his usual, clinical self. But this was precisely the problem. Not for the first time this season Liverpool misfired in front of goal slumping to a disappointing 0-0 draw. Some might suggest it’s slightly unfair to criticise Liverpool’s attacking capabilities considering they produced a 5-0 demolition of an in-form Watford side in between these two grudge matches. Matches like this display exactly what they can do but only producing performances like this every other game is no use, at least not for a side looking to win their first league title in over 20 years. As much as Liverpool’s front three have been criticised for squandering multiple opportunities, not all the blame can be placed on them. It’s no secret that Klopp was keen to recruit a new creative midfielder at the start of the season, and it’s easy to see why. Apart from Jordan Henderson who hits the odd 40 yard wonderball to Salah, it’s hard to see where service for the front three comes from, often relying on their attacking full-backs to be the main providers. Liverpool’s midfield and team as a whole in fact, is full of work-horses; Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Milner to name a few, but none of them are overly creative. They’re in desperate need of a playmaker as the collapse of the Nabil Fekir deal looks to be more damaging than many might have expected at the beginning of this campaign.
Manchester United and Chelsea are two sides going well considering the problems they’ve faced in recent times. United have been struck with a number of injuries, four of which were suffered in a single match against Liverpool. They’ve had to call upon a number of players who have spent the majority of this season on the bench, including the likes of Sanchez, Lukaku, McTominay and Pereira, all of whom have filled in well for their injured teammates. Lukaku, in particular, has scored 4 goals in 2 games as United beat Palace 1-3 and Southampton 3-2. Although they haven’t been entirely convincing, a late winner required against a struggling Southampton side, they’re getting the results and piling the pressure on their competitors for 4th place. Performances like this producing plenty of goals would be more than enough to please the fans at the best of times, even more so when they’re doing it despite Solskjaer being forced to play what is far from his strongest side. Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Sarri has received his fair share of criticism due to his teams poor form. However, whilst they did lose the game, his sides performance in the Carabao Cup final was impressive and arguably could have warranted a win. It appears to have signified a slight upturn in form as Chelsea then put in another excellent display in a 2-0 victory against Spurs, and a 1-2 win at local rivals Fulham. As much as the blues still have winning the Europa League available as a route to Champions League football next season, they won’t want to be entirely reliant on this and seem to finally be coming good in what could be a crucial period in the season for them.
5th placed Arsenal certainly aren’t making things easy for United and Chelsea. They’ve received a number of well-deserved victories in recent times, and should have added another in their short trip to 3rd placed Tottenham. The outgoing Aaron Ramsey gave them the lead in the first half, a goal which should have been enough to give them all three points. They only missed out after Kane dispatched a penalty which wouldn’t have been given had the offside that came before it been spotted by officials. Nonetheless, it’s likely Emery would have taken a point prior to the match and his lineup appeared to display that. Aubameyang and Ozil, who played well in their win against Bournemouth, were left on the bench perhaps showing a certain amount of caution in the Arsenal boss. Regardless, the fact that Arsenal came away from the match disappointed with a draw highlights the sorry state Spurs are currently in. If it weren’t for a mistake from the linesman, this would have been Tottenham’s third consecutive defeat, having previously lost to Burnley and Chelsea. It’s hard to find an explanation for this dip in form. The Burnley game saw the return of Harry Kane but even his presence wasn’t enough to earn them a win in this game or the two that followed it. Son is a player who was in fine form whilst Kane was out the team but he’s failed to hit those high standards since his return raising questions as to whether they’re effective playing together. There’s no doubt that they’re both excellent players making it difficult to leave either of them out the side. Pochettino has to find a way of utilising both their abilities at the same time and fast. Tottenham have already dropped from being title underdogs to being part of a real scrap for top 4. They’re in the worst form out of all the sides in the top 6 and if this doesn’t change, them falling into a Europa League spot is a real possibility.
It’s still very difficult to know what might happen between now and the end of the season having already experienced so many twists and turns. Tottenham and Liverpool are having slight blips but there’s no guarantee that this will continue and there’s certainly no guarantee that the other top six sides will keep up their fine form for the rest of the season. We’ve witnessed City have the odd off day earlier in the season whilst Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United certainly haven’t been flawless either. It could be all change as we approach the home stretch of this Premier League season.