Liverpool Fans

Liverpool are Sitting Pretty, But Will They Win the 2017-2018 Premier League?

A dominant display during the 2017-18 campaign saw Manchester City topple a huge number of Premier League records including most points claimed in one season (100). The Citizens ended up 19 points clear of their nearest challenger, a truly incredible gap.

It was no surprise therefore that the bookies placed Pep Guardiola’s men as the favourites to defend their crown this season. It was also no surprise when the champions got off to a roaring start and just a few games ago they were clear at the top with a goal difference 15 superior to their nearest challengers, Liverpool.

The competition has proven to be far stiffer this time around however and on Boxing Day, for the first time, City slipped down to second favourites.

Premier League Table - 28th December 2018

A poor run for them and some great results for the Reds allowed Liverpool to move ahead on points and level on goal difference. Can City turn things around or will we have a fresh champion for the 2018-19 season?

Liverpool make a strong claim

Liverpool Fans
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Liverpool finished 25 points behind Manchester City last season but that hasn’t stopped them reaching the top of the table this year. There are several reasons for their recent transformation but summer signings have played a huge part. The Reds shattered the world record price for a goalkeeper when paying £67m for the services of Alisson.

Although not a bargain price, nor a record that lasted long (within weeks Chelsea paid more than £70m for Kepa Arrizabalaga) the Brazilian has helped fix a formerly problem position at Anfield. Neither Simon Mignolet nor Loris Karius were able to consistently impress and often had mistakes in them. Allison represents a huge upgrade on the pair, despite the odd mistake, and he’s helped give Liverpool the best defensive record in the top flight.

Another key signing, somewhat unexpectedly, has proven to be Xherdan Shaqiri. After being relegated with Stoke, the Swiss winger’s stock was quite low but Liverpool were happy to cough up the £13m needed to trigger his release clause. Although not a regular starter, the 27-year-old has always impressed when on the field, popping up to score some important goals. Fellow new acquisition Fabinho took a little more time to make an impact in Merseyside but the Brazilian has increasingly looked the player Reds fans hoped he would be.

A good omen for Klopp’s men is that they topped the table at Christmas time. During eight of the last nine seasons, the side who were top on December 25th went on to win the title. The Reds are refusing to get carried away, and fans will be well aware that the last three times they led at this stage they failed to deliver, but there’s a definite sense of confidence whenever they take to the pitch. Early in December their momentum was in danger of being halted by Everton but a fortuitous 96th minute winner ensured they bounced back from their mid-week loss to PSG. The Reds didn’t look back after that point and by making it seven consecutive league wins on Boxing Day, they saw their odds of a first Premier League title slashed to 8/11, with City drifting out to 7/4.

What gives them hope

Virgil van Dijk – The big Dutchman has single-handedly transformed the Liverpool defence since his switch from Southampton. His presence alone makes a huge difference to the Liverpool rearguard and he’s now rightly considered as one of the top centre backs in the world. A Rolls Royce of a player, his smooth, calm presence and formidable size make the Reds really hard to score against.

What’s holding them back

History – the last two times a side top at Christmas has failed to win the league, it’s been Liverpool involved. Their most recent collapse, during the 2013-14 season, involved the infamous Gerrard slip and saw them threw away a 3-0 lead against Crystal Palace. When the going gets tough and the pressure is on, will the weight of history play on Liverpool and will City’s greater experience of a successful run-in see them home?

Title chances: 8/10

Tottenham enter the mix

Harry Kane
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It’s been 58 years since Tottenham last won the top flight of English football, back when it was known as the Football League First Division. They had faint hopes of ending their long wait for a title in the 2015-16 season but were never really able to get close enough to surprise champions Leicester. A season later they recorded their highest ever Premier League points total of 86 but on this occasion, such a figure was only good enough for second place. They’ve most certainly lost their ‘Spursy’ reputation under Mauricio Pochettino but do they have what it takes to be crowned league champions?

On paper you could argue the quality is there despite not spending a penny in the summer. Facing rising stadium costs, Daniel Levy was reluctant to allocate money to transfers and the few players that were pursued failed to turn into signings. More important than this was the fact that Spurs did not lose any of their key men. The likes of Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld were retained despite reported interest from elsewhere. Other names such as Dele Alli and Harry Kane committed their future to the club, penning long term contracts.

Having a huge World Cup contingent meant Tottenham began the season a little ragged but they began to find their feet during a run of eight wins from nine league matches starting in November. Injuries threatened to stop the north London side in their tracks but back-up players have stepped up to the mark. The best of example of this is undoubtedly Moussa Sissoko. A chorus of groans used to sound when his involvement was announced but he’s since won over the fans with a series of powerful performances.

An emphatic 5-0 win over Bournemouth on Boxing Day saw Tottenham move up to second with their odds of finishing in first place slashed to 8/1. They had been trading at 80/1 earlier in the month so it goes to show how impressive their festive form has been. 19 games into the campaign they hadn’t drawn a single gclashame, a Premier League record, and only once did they lose to a non ‘top-six’ side. They’ve regularly bossed proceedings versus weaker foe but against both Liverpool and Manchester City they were rather outclassed. There’s a lot of talent in this Spurs side but as with previous seasons, there are just a couple of sides that look that little bit better and have greater strength in depth and experience.

What gives them hope

Attacking options – Having Kane, Eriksen, Alli, Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela all in one team gives Spurs a top class attacking assortment. This strength in depth allows Pochettino to keep his goalscorers fresh and helps him cope with injuries whenever they strike.

What’s holding them back

Vulnerability at the back – Hugo Lloris has had to bail his side out too many times this season. At the half way point in the campaign, their expected goals against was 23.15, far higher than Liverpool (15.01) and Manchester City (15.66).

Title chances: 3/10

Man City down but far from out

David Silva Playing for Manchester City
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Although Man City’s European campaign got off to a rocky start, back in the Premier League they looked much like the side that walked to the title months earlier. There was one slip up against Wolves but 19 points from a possible 21 was by all accounts a positive start to the campaign. Next up was an away trip to Anfield, a test that now seems one of huge significance. It was a drab affair that the visitors had the better of but City could’ve nicked the points late on had Riyad Mahrez kept his penalty on target. How costly might that miss from 12 yards be come May?

The City players didn’t let their heads drop following the Anfield setback, going on to win their next seven league matches, three of them by at least a four goal margin. Things began to unravel in December though as the reigning champions lost to Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Leicester.

After the third defeat Guardiola called on his players “to work harder” in order to turn their form around. It’s hard to accuse the title hopefuls of not putting the effort in though, their dip in form has more to do with tactical misjudgements as well as a sprinkle of bad luck.

Seven points is the gap the Citizens must make up during the second half of the season. If anyone can close a gap of this size it’s them. They have a squad oozing with talent and the return of Kevin De Bruyne from injury should help them consistently reach that top gear.

The funds for January investment are there should Guardiola seek to strengthen his options but it doesn’t really seem entirely necessary. Left back is the only area of potential improvement, with Benjamin Mendy expected out until late February. Their hopes hinge on the result of their match against Liverpool on 3rd January. Should they lose that then no amount of transfers will spare them and it may well be time for Liverpool fans to get the champagne on ice.

What gives them hope

Squad depth – Man City have invested heavily in their squad over the last two seasons and more and it shows. Guardiola has long been able to rotate his side with no noticeable dip in quality and that could be crucial in the latter part of the season.

What’s holding them back

History – only two sides have successfully defended their Premier League title, the last club to do so being Manchester United in 2009.

Title chances: 6/10

Chelsea in need of a miracle

Chelsea Player Needs a Miracle
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Defeat at home to Leicester just before Christmas led Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri to declare that the title is now “impossible”. Although the bookies wouldn’t go that far, the Blues are now trading at odds as long as 100/1 in some places to claim what would be a sixth Premier League title. At the half-way point in the season, 11 points separated them from league leaders Liverpool. While it’s possible to see the Reds dropping that many points, Chelsea would require a near perfect second half of the season to stand any chance of pulling off an upset and would have to make up ground on Spurs and City as well.

A top four finish seems a far more realistic goal for the west London club this season but earlier on in the campaign they may have had higher aspirations. Former Napoli boss Sarri went his first 12 Premier League matches unbeaten and this had seen the Blues only four points adrift of the top.

In late October it wasn’t uncommon to see 8/1 odds on the Italian claiming an English league title at his first attempt. Defeats away to Wolves and Tottenham just two weeks apart quickly saw them slip out of genuine contention though and highlighted the weaknesses in their squad.

What gives them hope

Eden Hazard – The Belgian has been truly sensational for much of this season, returning to his peak form following the change of manager in the summer. Keep him fit and the Blues will be able to find the net consistently for the rest of the campaign.

What’s holding them back

Striking options – Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata have failed to impress in the Premier League this season. They are the only two senior strikers on the books at Chelsea and at the half-way point in the season, the pair had scored just six goals between them from a combined 1368 minutes.

Title chances: 0.5/10