Game week 17 is here and Leicester City is topping the table, United fans are moaning yet they’re four points shy of the top and the defending champions are on the wrong end of the table. Unpredictability has acquired a much more refined meaning this last couple of months. No one is really taking their chances to get a good hold of the title. So dire is the situation that fans nowadays prefer to shut up until the full-time whistle lest the opposition pulls a Leicester on you. The hectic Winter schedule is finally here. Four matches will be played across two weeks. I will attempt to predict my top four at the end of these series of matches.
- Manchester City
Opposition; Arsenal, Sunderland, Leicester, Everton
Key Players; David Silva, Sergio Aguero
Three points separate City from the summit. However in my opinion the two time PL champions will come out on top. For one the football gods have smiled upon them in terms of the opposition being offered. Apart from Arsenal, all the other teams are what you would refer to as B- list opposition.
The other positive for them is that Aguero is back! The Argentine recently returned to training and with Monday’s clash against Arsenal, City could not get a bigger boost. Vincent Kompany, and Pablo Zabaleta are also on various stages of recovery. This provides Pellegrini with a wider pool in which to pick his team from ensuring a decent squad rotation.
The Toure-Silva-Aguero line of attack is now needed more than ever. City have been very inconsistent and with the talent at their disposal, they really should be doing better. City are not new to pressure and its for this reason that I think their experience as regular PL contenders will count.
Opposition; Manchester City, Southampton, Bournemouth, Newcastle
Key Players; Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey
Its Christmas and the Gunners’ story is all too familiar; INJURIES. Spanish playmaker Carzola is out till March and revitalized French International Francis Coquelin is out till February. The two formed Arsenal midfield base. Carzola with his wide range of passing and Francis with his no nonsense ball recovery technique. The explanations as to why Arsenal usually get this many injuries around this time are littered all over the media. However focusing ahead, the Gunners might just have enough. Ramsey is starting to look like the box to box midfielder I have always envisioned him to be. He has what it takes to fill the boots of both Carzola and Coquelin. His five successful tackles last weekend highlight his defensive capabilities while his goal shows his ability in an attacking front. His first half heat map last weekend was amazing.
There has been talk of this being ‘The Year’.. but its been the year since 2004!! I just don’t see it being their year. The Champions league clash against Barcelona will sap all their energy.
Walcott’s return to fitness will again renew his rivalry with Giroud in order to get a spot in the team. The Frenchman has done a superb job in Walcott’s absentia and his first hat trick for the club proves it.
Mesut Ozil has also been superb. Ever since he joined from Madrid, the German’s game has had shades of Jekyll and Hyde about it but in the recent months, Mesut does indeed look like the same guy who graced the White number ten bwin jersey.
Apart from the game against City, Arsenal are capable of winning the rest of their matches quite comfortably.
- Leicester City.
Opposition; Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Bournemouth
Key Players: Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez
If you’d have told the Foxes’ fans that they will be topping the table so close to Christmas they would have had your head on a stick. One year ago that seemed unreal!
Season Position Win Draw Loss Points
(after 16 games) 2014-2015 1st 12 3 1 39
2015-2016 16th 4 3 9 15
(after 16 games) 2014-2015 20th 2 4 10 10
2015-2016 1st 10 5 1 35
Leicester’s lone defeat has come at the hands of Arsenal and they didn’t take it lying down. They fought till the very end. After the loss they responded in the best possible way winning 9 of their last 11 games. Leicester are on a roll and I just don’t know where their next loss will come from. Ranieri has done wonders to that team in terms of confidence. He came in and instilled belief in the players. He made them aware of just how talented they are. I thought the gruesome energy required to avoid relegation would have had effect on the team this season. Could they really avoid relegation again? Well with 35 points, they are definitely not going down. They just don’t believe they are going to be beaten.
However, their inexperience at this side of the table at this time of the season will certainly show. For one, the Foxes have to steer clear of injuries completely, particularly to their explosive pair Vardy and Mahrez. Vardy’s recent goal scoring record of scoring in 11 consecutive games is just a show of how potent the team is. Coupled with Mahrez’s dynamic and talented nature, the Foxes are certainly touching the stars.
The other thing is their fixtures. I know this is what was said before they met relegation threatened Chelsea(WOW) but its a point. For one Everton play the same type of football as Leicester and Lukaku and Delofeu are just as lethal as their King Power counterparts. On paper it looks like a tie but that is definitely a game to watch. City and Liverpool may also prove to be too much for Ranieri’s brigade but there’s no shame in falling to either of them.
Claudio Ranieri must decide whether to make additions in January. Its a risky move but if it works, the result will be spectacular. Leicester use a very high energy, high speed style of play, often relying on counter attacks. They have the worst pass success rate in the league and they do not look like they are going to change anytime soon. The result of this may be telling on the players come the second half of the season. He should also ensure that he keeps a hold of each and every member of his team so as to maintain the synergy. Vardy is certainly attracting interest with his performances and if he continues during this period, January is going to be hectic for Leicester. They simply have to hold onto the player who will lead England to greatness come next Year(Yes I said it)
In the Last 23 PL seasons, the top team after 16 games finished top on 14 occasions. Could Leicester’s story really have a Hollywood ending? Leicester will certainly hope for this. However this story seems eerily familiar, flashback to the maiden PL season in 92 where Norwich had an eight point lead at Christmas only to finish third, 8 points off then leaders Manchester United. The pressure simply was too much. This is the most testing time for the Foxes.
No Team with 35 points or higher after the first 16 games of a PL season finished outside the top 4.
- TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS
Opposition; Southampton, Norwich, Watford, Everton
Key Players; Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane
Spurs are still the surprise package for me. At the start of last season, no one saw what Pochettino was doing. Axing Adebayor after he had rediscovered his form, giving Paulinho a wide berth.. what was he thinking? Well in the end we got our answer with PFA Young Player of the Year Harry Kane banging 31 goals in all competitions last season and Nabil Bentaleb becoming an important cog in Spurs’ machine.
Fast forward to this year and things have not changed. Pochettino has still put his trust in youth and only two defeats, one of which was down to an won goal, stand as blemish this season. Spurs are simply fantastic. They play with explosive pace and a great understanding of the game and each other. It may look like their goals have sometimes been down to luck but no, every pass is calculated, every cross is thought of and every strike is pre determined. There is nothing lucky about this team… classical Pochettino team. With Spurs having the youngest average age in the team, Pochettino has one eye on the future. I also believe their fixtures are manageable. Its around this time that we started seeing the best of Kane who has already hit double digits in all competitions. I believe the young lad will show up particularly against the likes of Norwich and Watford.
Danish international Eriksen is also a joy to watch. the Ajax academy product has delivered some dazzling free kicks and with a further six assists, he is the orchestrator for the North London Team.
As an ardent United fan its painful to admit the fact that I don’t see us lasting at our current opposition. Our next opposition include Norwich, Stoke, Chelsea and our husbands Swansea. The first three teams play a similar brand of football. Parking the bus and with Lvg’s (sideways) style of play, there is no way we will break down teams so regimented at the back.
The most shocking news this week has been the (un)expected dismissal of Jose. Its been a torrid opening of the season for the defending champions. However its not like some us didn’t see the dismissal coming. Among the reasons highlighted in my previous article, Humpty Dumpty, Jose Mourinho is somehow responsible for this position. What’s for sure is that the the players who refer to themselves as ‘world-class’ must now come out and prove this otherwise Chelsea one point from relegation will slowly fade into the darkness. Here’s something to chew on;
96 teams in the PL history have gained 15 points or fewer from their opening 16 games and 50 ended up being relegated. The Average position of the 96 teams was 17th with only 2 finishing in the top half. Palace last season (10th) and Fulham (8th in 2010-2011).
Top four was already gone months ago but whether or not Chelsea will gain a European place is another matter. In my opinion, there will be no European football at Stamford Bridge. Yet we all know Hazard must play in Europe one way or the other (If you catch my drift)