Man U vs. Arsenal vs. Chelsea vs. Spurs vs. Man City: Who'll Win the EPL and Why?
Almost every year we are told that the current edition of the Premier League is more competitive, more open and more unpredictable than ever, or so it seems. However, only four teams have ever won the Premier League. Manchester United lead the way with 11 titles, with Chelsea and Arsenal tied for second with three titles apiece. Blackburn are the forth team, with one league title.
Considering that Blackburn won the league in 1995, and only Chelsea and Man Utd have won the tournament in the last six years, there is little in the stats to suggest that the Premier League is a more open competition.
However, until last season, the "Big four" had consistently dominated the Champions League qualification spots. Liverpool's poor showing last season, however, helped both Spurs and newly rich Man City establish themselves as top four contenders.
While many feel that the situation will be the same as last season, with two teams fighting it out for the title and City and Spurs fighting for fourth, Chelsea, the champions, currently lie fifth in the table, with City currently ahead of Arsenal as well.
Will Chelsea's experience allow them to fight back after some disastrous form? Can Arsenal finally break their trophy drought? Will Man Utd win yet another title? Could City show that their spending was worth it? Or could Spurs take the title?
Here's my top five come the end of the season.
5. Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham have risen rapidly since Harry Redknapp took over as manager in 2008. The North London club currently lie in fourth place, a point ahead of Chelsea. They have shown that they are a match for any side in the league this season, coming from two goals down to beat Arsenal and earning a draw with Chelsea. They are some way away from being a side capable of winning the league, but they are nonetheless in with a good chance of finishing in the top four, as they did last season. They currently lie in fourth place, a point ahead of Chelsea.
Once the biggest joke in the Premier League, Huerelho Gomez has improved tremendously. Last season he made several crucial saves to help Spurs to a forth place season, and this season he has been equally as good. However, he has made a few errors and a loss of form could prove costly.
In defence, Tottenham have been poor and have conceded 25 goals in the league. Alan Hutton is good going forward, but weak defensively, while Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King's injury problems have persisted.
Tottenham's midfield has been central to their campaign this season. Gareth Bale has become one of Europe's most wanted players due to his performances this season, while Rafael Van der Vaart has put a disappointing spell at Real Madrid behind him. He has scored nine goals so far, the most by any Spurs player this season. The potential loan signing of David Beckham, which may or may not happen, will only add to Spurs' midfield. Even if he doesn't play much, he would be a great impact sub while his input on the training ground will prove to be invaluable in both the short and long run.
Up front, Roman Pavlyuchenko, is no longer goal-shy and Jermain Defoe is back from injury and seems to be finding some form, scoring two in last weekend's FA Cup win. However, Defoe is yet to score in the league, while Peter Crouch has scored just once. The lack of goals up front could prove to be the deciding factor in whether or not Tottenham match last years fourth place.
If Spurs continue to leak goals, there is no way they can expect to finish in the top four. Furthermore, they need at least one striker to step up and start scoring on a regular basis to take some of the pressure off the midfield. Unless they tighten up at the back and start scoring more goals, Tottenham will not finish in the top four.
4. Manchester City
Manchester City just missed out on a top four berth last season, despite the arrival of a multi-billionaire owner. This season, however, a top four finish seems far more likely. City are currently second in the league, two points behind league leaders United, who have two games in hand over their local rivals.
City have relied heavily on the goals of star striker Carlos Tevez this season. He has score 12 times in the league, seven more than next best City player Mario Balotelli. The recent arrival of Edin Dzeko should take some of the pressure off Tevez. Dzeko is a proven goalscorer, netting 66 times in 111 games for Wolfsburg.
David Silva aside, City seem to lack creativity in midfield. Without Silva, they resorted to a very defensive game plan against Arsenal, earning themselves a point. Adam Johnson could be a huge asset in terms of creativity, but he has only started seven times this season.
City are very strong defensively, they have conceded just 16 goals this campaign, fewer than anyone else. Mancini has created a team with plenty of defensive capability, aided by a fantastic goalkeeper. Joe Hart has kept 11 clean sheets so far this season, the most by any goalkeeper in the league this season. Considering that they have Shay Given as back up, City are more than covered between the posts.
City's defensive solidarity provides them with a great base from which they can attack from. However, the midfield is problematic. A lot of their defensive strength comes from having players like De Jong and Barry doing a fair amount of defending. This means that they are often a bit short going forwards. Add in the fact that Jo hasn't been playing particularly well, and City have something of a problem going forward. Provided they can provide their strikers with plenty of chances though, and they should be able to continue the good form that has seen them rise to second in the table, something that nobody would have expected at this stage of the season just a few years ago.
City don't have the consistency or quality to win the league yet, but with the addition of Dzeko, they have a fantastic chance of finishing in a Champions League spot.
Chelsea got off to a flying start this season, scoring 14 goals in their first three games as they set the pace early on. It has been almost all downhill from there. An eight game losing strike that included defeats to Liverpool, Birmingham and a trouncing by Sunderland means that Chelsea are currently nine points of the pace, with no games in hand on either Arsenal or Tottenham. Equally worrying is the proximity of Sunderland. The northerners are just two points behind Chelsea, although the champions do have a game in hand.
Chelsea have suffered with injuries this season and were without star midfielder Frank Lampard until December. Didier Drogba has been suffering with Malaria and injuries, factors that mean he has scored just nine goals this season. Captain John Terry has also had injury problems which have created defensive weaknesses, although Chelsea have only conceded 19 times.
On the positive side, Florent Malouda has been playing well and Ashley Cole has been as good as ever. Petr Cech has kept eight clean sheets in 13 appearances, but few of those have come in recent times.
Chelsea have won once in the last nine, a record that has led to many calling for Ancelotti to be fired. A managerial change at this point in the season would probably achieve little due to the time it takes for a new manager to settle in and for the players to get accustomed to a new face. However, if results do not pick up soon, Roman Abramovic may have no choice.
Carlo Ancelotti has admitted that Chelsea are unlikely to triumph in the league this season. While it is too early to truly rule out them out, it is looking less and less like the champions will retain their crown. Chelsea have to make sure they secure a Champions League berth for next season, if they don't, it will spell the end of Ancelotti's time at Stamford Bridge.
If there is cash available, Chelsea may need to look for some new players to add some depth to the squad and to try and reboot what was, for a time, a promising season.
Arsenal haven't won a trophy since 2005, a fact regularly brought up by Arsenal's detractors. This season, however, Arsenal are still in contention for a much needed title. They are currently four points off the pace, potentially seven, if United win their game in hand. While this does put the North London club slightly off the pace, they have plenty of time to claw their way back.
Arsenal have often been accused of relying to heavily on captain Cesc Fabregas. This season, however, Samir Nasri has shown that he is more than capable of filling in for the Spaniard, who has missed seven games so far this season. Nasri has found consistency to match his undoubted talent, a development that makes him a brilliant asset for Arsene Wenger's side.
The signing of Chamakh has provided Arsenal with another dimension. He can play the silky passing game that Arsenal love to play, but he can also act as a target man if needed. He has adapted to the Premier League quickly, contributing seven league goals so far.
In defence, problems still persist. Vermaelen has been out for almost the whole season, while new signings Squillaci and Koscielny don't seem to work at all well together, managing just one clean sheet while playing together. More promising is Johan Djourou, who, when he has played, has been impressive.
Almunia has lost his place in goal to the much improved Fabianski. The name "Flapihanski" still persists, but there have been far fewer mistakes from the Pole. However, it is too early to tell whether or not he will revert to his old ways before the end of the season. If he does, Arsenal could be in real trouble.
Arsenal have scored 42 goals so far this season, second only to leaders Man United, indicating that they are no longer trying to walk the ball into the goal the whole time. 38 yellow cards and five red cards put them second bottom in the disciplinary table, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Arsenal are no longer a side to be physically dominated, a fact that will help them against teams who look to out muscle their opponents.
A new centre-back could help Arsenal, but with Wenger in the dugout, that seems unlikely. I'm not sure that the Gunners have quite enough about them to overhaul the Red Devils, but I think they're a good enough side to slot into second place.
1. Manchester United
Top of the league with two games in hand, Manchester United are in pole position to reclaim their league title.
After 20 games, United are unbeaten this season. However, they have been far from perfect. They have surrendered two goal leads on more than one occasion and have drawn eight games, facts that show that United haven't been a dominating, all conquering force this season.
A 7-1 win away against Blackburn, with Berbatov scoring five, has been the highlight of United's season so far. Berbatov has been on great form this season, netting 14 goals in the 17 games he has featured in so far. This is the type of form United have been waiting for since the striker's arrival from Tottenham Hotspurs at the start of the 08-09 season.
Wayne Rooney's contractual issues have been cleared up and the England front-man has overcome injuries that kept him out for much of the first half of the season.
Nani is more impressive than ever. Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has allowed him to play a greater role than before and prove that the Red Devils can manage without his compatriot. Six goals and eleven assists this season mean that this is already Nani's most productive Premier League campaign in terms of goals and assists.
Their status as the only unbeaten side means that the defence must be doing something right. So far, they have conceded 19 goals in 20 games, a more than decent record. Vidic, United's new captain this season, has been playing well while Rio Ferdinand is still an excellent defender.
Edwin Van Der Sar may be 40 and in all likelihood in his final season, but one mistake aside, he has been as impressive as ever. He has kept eight clean sheets, the fourth highest in the league.
Being two points ahead with two games in hand over Man City puts United in the driving seat to become champions for a record nineteenth time. They are unbeaten with eighteen games to go and will undoubtedly be looking to complete an unbeaten season. They haven't been playing brilliantly, but they are getting the job done and ensuring that they get a point at the very least.
It doesn't matter to Fergie if the football isn't of the highest quality, results are the ultimate criteria used to examine how good a team is. United's ability this season to always come away with something is what makes me think they will be top of the table come the end of the season.