Nearly halfway into the season, and after some big games having been played over the past few weeks, lets take a look at how the ‘ Big Four’ of the season have fared so far.
Manchester United: The defending Champions have not had the best start to the campaign. Currently lying third in the table, United are 5 points off the pace, which may go up to 8, if Liverpool can overcome Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham. United have admittedly had a tough set of games thus far; most their away games so far have been against opposition that finished in the top ten last season. A few key injuries haven’t helped them during this time. The summer signing of Berbatov hasn’t proved to be worth the 30 odd million, though United fans may argue this vehemently. One key statistic one must look at in the premier league is that the team that does the best among the big 4, generally goes on to win the title. This season, United have only managed to garner a solitary point from 3 games against their title rivals; something that has to change if they want to retain their title. They also need their entire attack to fire, rather than count on Ronaldo to score 40 goals again. He might have the ability to do so, but counting on such a figure is not pragmatic. Still, there is an overwhelming feeling that United will be in the thick of things come May. They have experience, and the quality. The interesting thing this season, is that so do the other teams, that too in abundance.
Chelsea: At times Chelsea have been nothing short of magical this season. With Lampard at this imperious best, Anelka scoring for fun, a solid defense and several flawless performances. They lie joint top with Liverpool, though Liverpool can go ahead with a positive result against the Hammers. Every manager stresses the need for ‘Strength in Depth’ for a team to be able to win the League Title. Fact is that Chelsea have by far the deepest squad in the premiership. Thy are able to call upon players like Branislav Ivanovic when their defensive department is severely depleted; and this is a player that was chased by continental heavyweights such as Juventus and A.C Milan. Going away to Middlesbrough with a depleted squad and winning 5-0 goes to show that Chelsea are indeed in it to win it. They have a manger with a wealth of experience, but they too have their problems. Chelsea have failed to turn up to the big games this season, something that is unusual considering their good record in fixtures that matter. A loss to Liverpool, a draw with United and a loss to an Arsenal side without several key players are games that cannot be overlooked. When things go well for Chelsea, they seem unbeatable, but this season they have not yet shown the resoluteness and grit that enabled them to win back to back titles under Mourinho. Some of this may be down to them having one fully fit striker in the first team, and thus a lack of options with Drogba being either injured or suspended. This is an area they could invest in, though it doesn’t seem likely during the current financial climate. Chelsea though, like United will be there at the end, it remains to be seen in what condition and what position they will be in.
Liverpool: The wait for a League title at Anfield has gone on endlessly. England’s most successful club has had a barren spell that must make the lengend Bill Shankly squirm in his grave. Rafa Benitez seems to have done well with the limited funds he was provided with this season. The signings of Keane and Dossena are yet to fully prove their worth, but, it takes time for new players to settle in. Fans should realize that everyone isn’t world-class Torres, and that some players need more time. This season Rafa seems to have been getting it right more often than not. A win against West ham would put the Reds top of the table at a time when their title challenge generally wanes away . The summer signing of Albert Riera, has proven to be an excellent acquisition. Dirk Kuyt has vindicated his manager with some key goals, and the Reds have done well without one of their best players in the indomitable Fernando Torres. Dropping his rotation policy, Rafa has stuck to a core group of players, and if these players stay fit enough, the fans at Anfield could see a first real crack at the title in a real while. Time and time again, the Reds have proven themselves to be real title contenders, with excellent results against other members of the Golden quartet of the Premier league. It will be good for the league to see more than a two horse race, and Liverpool, this season, look like they will make it at least a 3 horse race. Arsenal could have something to say about that though.
Arsenal: A team with amazing potential. With wonderkids routing premier league outfits in the Carling Cup, Wenger seems to have secured the future of the club. The kids have immense potential, but what Arsenal lack is a large squad of proven players. 11 players will not win them the league title, and is something Arsene Wenger needs to look at. The fiasco of William Gallas and a shocking performance against Manchester City, led to the appointment of Cesc Fabregas as Club Captian. This could propel the player to become one of the very best. An excellent result against Chelsea sees the Gunners back in with a shout, 7 points off the pace. The problem with them is that they go out and play brilliant football against the big teams. This is crucial. Results against the top teams matter a lot, but only when you’re doing the job against Fulham, Stoke and Manchester City. Inconsistent, but with immense potential, the gunners will undoubtedly finish in the top 4, no matter what people say, but the lack of resoluteness in the smaller games, the Gunners, for me will not have a good shot at the title unless they strengthen the squad or get up and start winning ugly when needed.
This was my two cents about the title race thus far, and how the teams have rated and are expected to do through the rest of the season. What do you, the readers think about your clubs performance so far, and how could they improve.