As the Premier League took a breather for the FA Cup third round ties this weekend, there is no better time to step back and look at the genuine contenders in the race for this season’s title.
Are Leicester contenders or merely pretenders? Can Arsenal finally win the Premier League title after going over 11 years without it? Or will Manchester City win back the crown after losing out to Chelsea last term? And why not include currently fourth-placed Tottenham, who are only three points behind City and are on a superb run.
Without the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United competing at the very top of the table this season is strange enough, but replacing them with Leicester City, who at Christmas last season were sitting at the bottom of the table and looked certain for relegation, is even more surprising.
Ranieri’s men have approached the season without fear, and despite a setback this Christmas with a loss and two draws, the Foxes remain just two points behind leaders Arsenal. But the big question on every football fan’s lips is can they keep it up? It is not looking too promising. Jamie Vardy’s goals have dried up and Ranieri cannot rely on Riyad Mahrez to deliver the goods week in, week out. The two have ripped up the Premier League this season, but all of a sudden we are worried about Leicester’s main men’s fitness levels.
Perhaps the Foxes manager could delve into the transfer window this January to provide cover and quality around them. The signing of Demerai Gray from Birmingham is just a start, and with the promise of pacey and attractive football, surely Ranieri will be able to bring in much better quality players than he could in the summer.
It is very difficult to predict their finising position, but I expect them to slowly but surely fade out of the title race.
Could this finally be Arsene Wenger’s year? Two points clear and a team that has arguably the best player in the Premier League right now in Mesut Ozil, surely this is the best shot the Gunners are going to get at the title. As mentioned previously, the slumps of holders Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United means that Arsenal do not have too much competition around them.
This is the first time in a long time that Arsenal possess a world class squad with strength in depth and have the right players to deal with the injury crisis that has yet again hit Wenger hard. The emergence of Joel Campbell, who has scored three goals in as many games, whilst Sanchez waits to return from injury can only be a good problem for Arsene Wenger, should there ever be one. And with the Chilean soon returning, so too do Ramsey and Wilshere for the run-in, showing that Arsenal are finally flourishing in an area they have stumbled in previous years.
Perhaps it was the summer signing of talisman Petr Cech that was the pivotal moment of the season, with the keeper collecting the most Premier League clean sheets in history. Meanwhile, playmaker Ozil has 16 assists in his last 20 games. Unlike their rivals, Arsenal aren’t overly reliant on one man.
Sergio Aguero’s hamstrings may be, however comical, crucial to Manchester City’s title charge this season. The Argentine has looked unstoppable when he has appeared but his fellow strikers Bony and Ihneacho are just not as prolific or experienced at the top level to seal the Premier League crown.
Unsurprisingly, City’s attacking quality is not in question here. Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and David Silva make up a world class, attack-minded midfield full of flair and drive. But City have severe defensive frailties, and the signing of Otamendi in the summer has not done much to solve the problem, with the defence’s reliance on Vincent Kompany’s fitness a major concern.
Third in the table yet eighth in terms of form, City’s inconsistency is underlined by five defeats already, but there is just too much quality to rule them out of this.
Perhaps the dark horse in the race for the title but Pochettino has built a physical, determined and consistent Spurs side, something fans at White Hart Lane have not seen in many years. Very much like Vardy at Leicester and Aguero at Manchester City, Tottenham are reliant on England forward Harry Kane, who has 11 of the 34 goals they have scored this season.
This Tottenham squad are perhaps ruling themselves out of the title race this season, despite being only three points behind City in fourth. Aiming for the top four and qualification into next year’s Champions League seems a more realistic target. But they should be more ambitious. This Spurs side has quality across the park, arguably for the first time since the team that contained Bale and Modric in their midfield.
The huge reliance on Kane and youngster Dele Ali does however seem too much for Mauricio Pochettino to be thinking about the title right now, but with clever signings this January and in the summer, look out for Spurs next year for sure.