Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Best Race Ever

A couple of months ago, I introduced you to the “8-horse race”. I felt absolutely certain even then though, that we would eventually end up watching two or three clear favourites battling for the ultimate prize in English football and that the others would simply wither away.

Months later and here I am again with the awkward pleasure of communicating that we are nowhere closer to knowing who those two or three contenders will be. In fact, if anything, I’m more confused now than when I churned out the last one.

Arsenal were in rampant form then- they were so good that Olivier Giroud was scoring goals. Alright, that was an easy one. But, unlike Giroud, I didn’t miss it. Aaron Ramsey’s brilliance seems to have waned slightly, but Lukas Podolski’s timely return means Arsenal are still more or less on track.

They should probably sign a centre-forward- unless Walcott thinks he’s ready to don the avatar of “Theo”ry Henry and take up the mantle himself. Then they most certainly must sign a centre-forward.

Manchester City are continuing to dismantle teams at home. It’s probably the most convincing title charge by a home team ever- they’ve scored 38 goals and conceded just 6 in 10 games at the Etihad. Away form, though, leaves much to be desired. With just 4 wins in 9 away games, they’ve scored a measly 16 goals and let in 15.

They remain title favourites but they’re bound to get found out and drop points at home eventually so the dismal away record remains a concern for Pellegrini.

Chelsea under Jose are doing exactly what the cynics expected- picking up points. It isn’t pretty but let’s face it, it never was. Jose’s teams are efficient, hard to break down and uncompromising. Most importantly, they pick up points and win titles.

The only loser in the long run is football but that hasn’t really ever mattered to Jose Mourinho. I’m also certain that isn’t the only thing that doesn’t “Mata” to him.

Liverpool were top at Christmas and 5th 3 days later. Consecutive defeats to title rivals have left Rodgers’ men a bit off the pace but good performances in both those games will encourage him.

The imminent return of Steven Gerrard and the less imminent but still early return of Daniel Sturridge may take some pressure off Suarez, especially if Sturridge finds the kind of form he was in at the start of the season. Suarez’s new contract bodes well too- always nice to see players willing to di(v)e for their clubs.

Everton continue to be the most impressive team in the league for this writer. Martinez has taken talents like Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley and turned them into household names. The best part about this Everton side is that they are an absolute treat to watch!

They keep the ball expertly and move it around with supreme confidence. They have Chelsea’s best centre-forward and Man United’s first choice left back and are currently more pleasing to the eye than both those sides put together. More power to them, I say!

Coming to the defending champions, they seem to have found a bit of form at absolutely the perfect time. The latter half has always been the United half of the season and the red half of Manchester will doubtless feel they’re still in with a shout. After all, if Danny Welbeck is scoring consistently, something wonderful must be happening.

The uncertainty over Wayne Rooney and the certainty over Patrice Evra will be equally worrying the Old Trafford faithful, though. Signings are a must if a serious title challenge is to be mounted and centre midfield remains the biggest gap in need of filling.

Sneijder? Koke? Gundogan? Time will tell. An absolute certainty is that Tom Cleverley and Anderson will never form a Champions League (or really any league) winning centre midfield.

Newcastle and Spurs are the polite pretenders but remain within touching distance. Keeping hold of Cabaye will be Newcastle’s biggest challenge and keeping hold of clean sheets will be Spurs’, but this writer can’t see either finishing in the top six.

A veritable nail-biter of a league finish awaits us and forms the perfect curtain-raiser to Brazil, 2014. They call this league the best in the world but, quite frankly, the charm lies in the fact that the best are no longer better than the rest. In fact, pretty soon there will be no rest.

The most competitive league from top to bottom is churning out another classic title race- quite possibly, the greatest ever.

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