As we enter the middle of February, the Premier League has gone mad. The footballing Gods are in meltdown as the Leicester City’s fairy tale starts to make Cinderella start to look more like a stale rom-com.
This Sunday sees the Top 4 all face each other. Arsenal host Leicester City in the early game and then later that afternoon Tottenham find themselves at the Etihad. A win for the Foxes would see them go 8pts clear of Arsenal, whilst a victory for Spurs and Pochettino will see them put a 4pt gap between themselves and City. Are the leagues two unlikely title contenders going to mount a serious challenge? No one knows but here is my little look into what the rest of season has in store for all 4 clubs, and too see whether the unthinkable might actually become real – Leicester City becoming Champions under the ‘Tinkerman’. It couldn’t happen could it?
*When looking at the hardest games, I have gone for the traditional ‘big 6’ – any other tough fixtures based on form this season are mentioned in the club summary.
Leicester City – 53pts
Hardest 5 games: Arsenal (a), Watford (a), Man Utd (a), Everton (h), Chelsea (a)
Where to start with Leicester City. It’s the curveball from the left-field as Leicester continue to defy footballing logic. I for one thought they were going to get relegated upon the announcement of Ranieri last summer. It seemed at best a sideways step from Nigel Pearson. Oh how wrong I was?
Leicester City look all the part a title winning side. Their demolition job on Manchester City last weekend only proved that this club, without its sprinkling of international superstars, look ready to continue the most unlikely of title pushes.
Leicester by far have the easier run in of any of the current Top 4 clubs to the points where, bar the 5 listed above and Southampton at home, Leicester could arguably not lose any of their remaining fixtures. They don’t have the distractions of Europe and the FA Cup and when it comes to questions of pressure, Leicester City find themselves in a different position of experience than Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side of two years ago. Whilst Liverpool was a squad littered with players who had had little experience of a high level season ending run of game (as seen by the capitulation particular against Crystal Palace), the majority of Leicester City’s squad were at the club last year as they fought off relegation. What’s harder, staying up or winning the league?
See how much Leicester City are enjoying their football currently and the smile says it all.
Predicted Finish: 2nd
Tottenham – 48pts
Hardest 5 games: Man City (a), Arsenal (h), Liverpool (a), Man Utd (h), Chelsea (a)
Tottenham’s progression under Pochettino is mightily impressive and it comes as now surprises that the Argentine is being ear-marked by the Manchester United hierarchy. With the second best defence in the league (only 19 goals conceded to date), and with a core of young and hungry players, Tottenham understand that their project is one for the coming years and Pochettino is putting in some strong foundations for the coming years and the stadium move.
I have found myself writing almost every week about the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli et al as Pochettino’s emphasis on promotion from within as seen a whole host of English talent playing high level Premier League football. For this alone Pochettino’s philosophy should be applauded, especially for any England fan looking for the future of the national side.
Yet Tottenham are incredibly unfortunate with what the back of the season holds. After all those games in the Europa League, Tottenham are now at the pointy end of the tournament, in the LAST 32. Coupled with the league and the FA Cup, Spurs could go on to play over double the amount of games of Leicester. When looking at their remaining league fixtures, the Premier League computer was perhaps expecting Tottenham to shape the title run in rather than feature in it. It is essentially silly what league fixtures have left, including trips away to Stoke City and West Ham on top of the ones listed above. I can’t help but think the Premier League title might be one bridge too far with these fixtures on the horizon for Spurs.
Predicted Finish: 4th
Arsenal – 48pts
Hardest 5 games: Leicester (h), Man Utd (a), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), Man City (a)
Surely, this is the year. This is Arsene’s time too wave a two finger salute at all the haters. Arsenal fans have endured the stadium move, the transfers at home or abroad of their brightest stars, and the feeling that they are prettiest losers in football since 2005. Arsenal have played wonderful football since but it hardly marries up with league success. Now is Arsene’s time to draw a line in the sand and be that guy whose dynasty is shaped by victories from start to finish.
So much of Arsenal’s season rides on Sunday’s result but with Coquelin back in the frame, Welbeck and Wilshere training again (I know we shouldn’t get our hopes here) and Sanchez playing once more, Arsenal are the experts at patching a big run of games together when they need Champions League football. Ozil has been utterly sumptuous this season and with the perennially unfancied Giroud getting 12 goals this season already, if Arsenal can string some league form together, this is a team who on the back of two FA Cup victories has a winning mentality somewhere within it.
A win against Leicester though far from guarantees a title win and Wenger will know that it’s the games away from the Emirates that will define their run in. United, Spurs, Everton, City, Arsenal even need to go Upton Park to face West Ham. The games they have away from home aren’t easy but with key men fit and raring to go, Arsenal have more than enough in the locker to win these games.
Are they a big game team? Can they grind out the necessary results to win the league? You can’t help but think if Wenger doesn’t do it this year, when will Arsenal and Wenger have as good a chance again.
I for one think they will, but expect drama as this Arsenal side over the last decade doesn’t like running the easy path.
Predicted Finish: 1st
Manchester City – 47pts
Hardest 5 games: Tottenham (h), Liverpool (a), Man Utd (h), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h)
Ever since the announcement of Guardiola on deadline day, Manchester City’s season was going to go down one of two paths. Spectacular rallying around Pellegrini as they try and win the league for the departing Chilean or lethargy sets in, and City’s season as an air of transition about its remainder.
A third argument is that every City player are currently playing for their City careers and whilst this may be true, everyone knows that with Guardiola will come a wholesale change in playing personal. Some players that will leave City aren’t essential to the current squad but one departure will occur will be Yaya Touré.
Sold by Guardiola in his prime at Barcelona, the Ivorian’s influence has seemingly been waning over the last 18 months and at times has seemed almost pedestrian in the centre of the park this season. The problem facing Pellegrini for the title run in now is not that Touré remains undroppable but the injury list at City is ever mounting. The loss of both Silva and De Bruyne has greatly diminished City’s creative outlet going forward, heightening the expectation of performance from Touré. Furthermore, the continued absence of Kompany and City’s consequent defensive errors is perhaps the greatest loss of them all. Supposedly back in time for the Tottenham game, Pellegrini will have to manage the Belgian over next couple of months to get the very best from the Belgian in the biggest of games.
One thing in City’s favour are the home games they have during this run and with the Capital One Cup Final on the horizon, February could be the month where that all important momentum starts to formulate. The games will come thick and fast but with big wins comes confidence and after the harrowing defeat to Leicester City last weekend, confidence (and Aguero) is what City need for this season to be a success.
I’m just not sure that with the players missing through injury and in form that City will be able to piece together a sustained title challenge.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
And the rest…
To look outside the current Top 4 is just not really worth the hassle. It is a statement like that which can will always come back to haunt you but with Manchester United currently 12 points off the top of the table, you can’t help but feel this is too far of a gap to bridge and that isn’t even considering United’s performance this season. Somehow, they are in the mix zone for European football but surely, with the uncertainty surrounding LVG, United fans should worry more about looking behind them in regards to the league. The title is gone and now the bigger question must surely be does the Europa League offer the best route back into the Champions League?
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(Featured Image isn’t my own, please click on the image to find source article)