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The Premier League Title Race: A closer examination

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As the Premier League returns to action, following a break for the 3rd round of the FA Cup, let's take a closer look at the teams that are vying to lift the Premier League trophy come May. Manchester United currently top the table with matches in hand as they chase their record 19th title in England. There's been much discussion and debate recently, as to whether the elite teams of England have weakened, or if the rest of the Premier League has strengthened. One thing that seems to be a consensus though, there certainly appears to be more parity. Given the unpredictable nature of the Barclays Premier League this season, and how quickly the table has continually shifted, the current top 5 teams can all probably claim a chance at the trophy. In the past decade or so, it was expected that the champion would need to earn near 90 points to be crowned champions. 

 

YEAR

CHAMPION

PTS

2009-10

Chelsea

86

2008-09

Man United

90

2007-08

Man United

87

2006-07

Man United

89

2005-06

Chelsea

91

2004-05

Chelsea

95

2003-04

Arsenal

90

2002-03

Man United

83

2001-02

Arsenal

87

 

Here is the table for the current 2010-11 season: 

Premier League Standings

 

By examining the current table, we can assess how many points per match (PPM) each team has earned thus far, and if current pace holds true for each team, we can project (PROJ) their points at seasons end.

TEAM

G

PTS

PPM

PROJ

Manchester United

20

44

2.20

84

Manchester City

22

42

1.91

73

Arsenal

21

40

1.90

72

Tottenham

21

36

1.71

65

Chelsea

21

35

1.67

63

 

If United were to continue on the pace that they currently are on, they would likely be champions of England with the 2nd least amount of points for a title-side in the past decade. Personally, I find this season to be wildly intriguing and I believe the broad challenge for the title provides better theatre. In contrast, La Liga is seemingly going in the opposite direction, as Sid Lowe discusses in a recent article how Barcelona and Real Madrid are further establishing their dominance over Spain. 

In my humble opinion, I believe that the top sides of England are slightly weakened at the moment, but also that other sides of the Premier League have collectively improved. More clues will be given as the season progresses, especially as we see how English clubs fare in European competition. If Arsenal is able to upset Barcelona in Champions League play, or if multiple English clubs make deep runs, then there might be validity to the top sides all claiming that England has strengthened as a whole. Furthermore, a deep run by Manchester City and/or Liverpool in Europa League could add to that assertion as well. 

Without further ado, let's examine each title contender one by one...

 

THE FAVORITE:

* Manchester United (2/3 odds by the bookies):

- United lift the trophy if... In the current moment, United is in terrific shape. Much has been made about how United haven't hit their stride, yet, they remain unbeaten and top the table. There is plenty of upside still: Wayne Rooney has yet to hit goal scoring form, key players have missed numerous matches (Scholes, Rooney, Giggs, Park, Ferdinand, Van der Sar, Valencia, etc) and points have still piled up. In addition, the core of this squad know how to steer themselves through the currents of a title chase. Furthermore, Sir Alex Ferguson is undoubtedly driven and highly motivated to have United surpass their bitter rival Liverpool with whom they're currently tied with for a record 18 English titles. 

- United fail to lift the trophy if... United must improve their form away from Old Trafford. Even though they have yet to lose in league play, they can only claim two victories away from home. Also, United face more fixtures versus their title contenders than anyone else does (see 'key fixtures remaining'). It is also imperative that Rio Ferdinand stay healthy and continue with the form he's recently shown. Feridnand and Vidic, when healthy, arguably anchor the best back four in the Prem. 

- Overview: Things can change in a hurry (ask Chelsea), but United appear to be a in terrific position to win their 4th title in five seasons. More importantly, lifting the cup in May would allow them to surpass Liverpool for the most titles in English history. The team also has a chance to remain unbeaten, and join Arsenal as the only other unbeaten team in modern history. A win at White Hart Lane on this Sunday could essentially be a knock-out blow to Spurs in their chase for the title.

- Remaining competitions: FA Cup, UEFA Champions League (vs Marseille)

- Key Fixtures remaining: @ Tottenham, Man City, @ Chelsea, @ Liverpool, @ Arsenal, Chelsea. 

 

CONTENDERS:

* Manchester City (15/2)

- 'Citeh' lift the trophy if... Their high priced, prima donna players can come together. The most recent high priced addition, Edin Dzeko, will need to quickly form a cohesive partnership with Carlos Tevez, and the plethora of other attackers at the disposal of manager Roberto Mancini. City's defense, along with goalkeeper Joe Hart, have been superb and this will need to remain if City has any real hope of a title this season. City also need to take 3 points at some point versus the other contenders, and not just settle for a point if they truly desire a Premier League title. They essentially played with a '8-1-1' formation at the Emirates, and even at home vs United. FIFA '11 won't even allow me to play like that. 

- 'Citeh' fail to lift the trophy if... the Toure's and Emmanuel Adebayor continue their Nigel De Jong impressions on each other in training sessions. Also, City is in trouble if Carlitos keeps seeing photos of his kids and hops on the nearest plane back to Argentina. Furthermore, Mancini's propensity to settle for a single point in big games won't cut it if they're trying to make up ground on the other contenders. 

- Overview: Roberto Mancini appears to be perfectly content on just finishing in the top four. His instinct to pack it in big matches, despite the attackers that he has at his disposal, shows his intention of trying not to lose, rather than trying to win. Also, City have to figure out how to utilize both Tevez and Dzeko, I don't see Tevez happily giving up his role of leading the line in City's current 4-3-3. Did Mancini provide a new formation preview in their recent FA Cup match vs Leicester City in which he went 4-4-2? 

- Remaining competitons:  FA Cup, Europa League (vs Aris Thessaloniki)

- Key Fixtures remaining: Man United, @ Chelsea, Tottenham 

* Arsenal ( 10/3)

- Arsenal lift the trophy if... they can find some consistency. No one doubts their attacking talent, but no one is surprised when the Gooners seemingly lose focus for a match and drop points unexpectedly. Arsenal is essentially on pace for the same points they've accumulated in recent seasons, however, with expected drop in points for a championship side this season, they are a legitimate threat to win the title. Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, and Jack Wilshere provide possibly the most lethal attack in England.

- Arsenal fail to lift the trophy if... they can't stay healthy and don't find a way to shore up their defense. Fabregas and van Persie have proven to be made of glass, so more injuries to these key players could derail their title run. With Thomas Vermaelen's injury woes as well, Arsenal appear to be in trouble at center-back. Wegner may be forced to actually spend a pound or two in the current transfer window. The Gooners will also be forced to hope for the best with current No 1 Lucas 'Flappyhandski.'

- Overview: In their chase for a Premier League title, drawing Barcelona in Champions League play may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Elimination would allow them to shift their focus on league play, and not worry about overextending their first team squad during the stretch run. Arsenal also have already visited United, Chelsea, and City. They have a very favorable remaining fixture list.

- Remaining competitions: League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Champions League (vs Barcelona)

- Key Fixtures remaining: @Tottenham, Man United

 

A PUNCHER'S CHANCE:

* Tottenham (28/1)

- Spurs lift the trophy if... they shore up their defense. Getting Ledley King and Tom Huddlestone healthy could go a long ways towards preventing goals. Also, earning 3 points this Sunday at White Hart Lane versus Man United would get them back in the title race. Spurs have one of the best attacks in the league led by the brilliance of Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, and Luka Modric. The team also has good depth, which should suit them well as they wage battle on multiple fronts. 

- Spurs fail to lift the trophy if... If they continue to concede the absurd amount of goals that they have. Gomes, after a very solid 2009-10 season, has been suspect at times this current season. Much like Arsenal, there isn't much doubt to their attack, but their defense is rightfully questioned. Spurs have been more impressive on the European front than they have in England, and this needs to be rectified if they hope to finish at least Top four again. 

- Overview: If United come in and win at White Hart Lane on Sunday, then Spurs' title hopes are essentially dashed. However, Spurs are in the unfamiliar position of doing battle on multiple fronts, and they likely are just focused on a top four finish and making a deep Champions League run. If they succeed on that, then next year might be the year they target lifting the Premier League trophy. 

- Remaining competitions: FA Cup, UEFA Champions League (vs Milan)

- Key Fixtures remaining: Man United, Arsenal, @Man City, @Chelsea

 

ON THE ROPES:

* Chelsea (7/1)

- Chelsea lift the trophy if... they find the fountain of youth. After a blistering start to the season, the champions have completely sputtered. However, when fully healthy and fit, Chelsea still plenty of big names and are solid both in the attack and defense. The core group of players know how to win as they fought their way to the title just last season in a close race with United. If Terry and Lampard regain health and form, and Drogba begins to score goals again, then Chelsea is capable of making a run.

- Chelsea fail to lift the trophy if... their core players can't regain health/form and their young players aren't able to deal with the pressure of a title run. Chelsea appear to have players that are noticeably aging and some who are very young, and not enough in between. The unloading of players like Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, and Deco have really exposed their depth. 

- Overview: Chelsea's realistic focus may need to be just making sure that they finish in the top four. If they fail at this, its not unthinkable that Roman Abramovich blows up Chelsea and sells off aging players. Failing to qualify for Champions League would mean missing out on a massive payout. Beginning to re-build might allow Abramovich to focus on the new financial fair play regulations that supposedly go into affect in a few years, and possibly allow him to focus his finances on Russia's 2018 World Cup. Nothing would shock me with this Chelsea squad, even if they completely imploded and fell down to 6th place or if they ripped off six straight league victories and got themselves back into the title chase. They'll certainly be interesting if nothing else for remainder of this season.

- Remaining competitions: FA Cup, UEFA Champions League (vs Copenhagen)

- Key Fixtures remaining:  Man United, Man City, Tottenham, @Man United

 

NOT A CHANCE IN HELL:

* Liverpool... bwhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhaahahhahaahahhahaaha

 

My Prediction:

1. Manchester United

2. Arsenal

3. Manchester City

4. Tottenham