The English Premier League title race has passed its quarter-mark, with a familiar look to the top three: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City. Everton have broken the tedium through some impressive performances to be in fourth, while traditional powerhouses Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham (and perhaps Newcastle) seek greater consistency as they jostle for position below the coveted Champions League qualification places.
West Bromwich Albion are the current surprise package of the season, sitting pretty in fifth. While its doubtful whether they would be able to maintain that position over the long term, it just goes to show that beyond the summit, the English Premier League has become extremely competitive. The Baggies’ success has been built on their solid defensive record.
Chelsea, with Roberto Di Matteo at the helm on a permanent basis following the Champions League final heroics last year, have set about changing the style of football that has been part of the Blues since Jose Mourinho was boss.
Instead of the direct, physical play and resolute defence which wore teams down, Chelsea’s midfield is now packed with artisans such as Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata, a bargain at 23.5 million pounds in 2011. Their movement off the ball and skill on it have made Chelsea a different side from what they have been known as in the past, with the flood of goals in the league the result.
With the tested defence of Terry, Cole, Ivanovic, Cahill and others when fit, along with the dependable Petr Cech in goal, the Blues have the team to go the distance in the league.
Just ahead of them are Manchester United. Their signing of Robin van Persie from Arsenal set tongues wagging, with the Red Devils making a statement in the transfer window through the acquisition.
It’s proved to be the right buy as Van Persie has scored regularly for his new club, which boasts an array of attacking talent in the form of the Dutchman, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and another new acquisition, Shinji Kagawa.
However, with Rio Ferdinand ageing, and fellow defenders Nemanja Vidic, Johnny Evans and Paul Jones injured, its at the back where United have been spotty, having come back from a goal down in seven games already this season.
Unless they can solidify at the back, will the Red Devils continue to be able to keep outscoring the opposition? Some how I doubt.
And what of the defending champions? Manchester City haven’t been as fluent as they would like this season, with the poor form of last season’s best defender Vincent Kompany an ongoing concern. Added to that their poor form in Europe, Roberto Mancini will be under pressure to consistently win games.
He’s got the squad depth to do it, with an embarrassment of attacking riches, including super-sub Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Sergio and Aguero.
It is clear this English season will go down to the wire, however at this stage I believe are Chelsea are favourites, followed by United, than City.