As we reach another international break and with it the impending winter fixture list it seems as though we have quite the title race on our hands. With so many twists and turns already before November it just shows what an unpredictable league the Premier League is.
Offside Rule’s Lynsey Hooper looks at who is on the up and who is very much on the down a month after the last round of World Cup qualifiers.
It’s often the case that Arsenal head in to November in a healthy position, but it’s November which has proven to be their achilles heel. Having been reporting from the club a lot recently, I have to say something feels different this year. They look an improved side, and so I would expect them to improve on last season. That being said they can only go one better which means I must be tipping them for the title. Doesn’t it?
Well, the signing of Shkodran Mustafi and his relationship with Lorent Koscielny (who for me is the best centre back in the league currently) has made Arsene Wenger’s side defensively sound. The one area I wasn’t convinced about last season. Mesut Ozil is the main world-beater in the Premier League right now for me. He’s adding goals to his assists and instrumentally makes the team tick when he’s on form. His relationship with Alexis Sanchez could be key to actually getting their hands on the trophy.
However, (and there’s always a however when it comes to Arsenal, hence going without the league title for so many seasons) I was at the Emirates when Middlesbrough held them to a goalless draw and it’s those results that concern me. I can’t wholeheartedly back them when they drop such crucial points. Winning those games is, and will be, key.
Also, Petr Cech is the only title winner in that dressing room, more of that experience in the squad would make all the difference. Let’s face it, Chelsea and Manchester City have title winners from back to front which could give them a psychological advantage.
Liverpool are back to being the entertainers with the best attack in the Premier League and are certainly playing the Heavy Metal football that Jurgen Klopp famed in Germany.
On the flip side, defensive frailties are there for all to see and I agree with recent pundits, one being Stan Collymore, who say they’re missing a top quality goalkeeper. They can outscore anyone at the minute and that is all well and good but is it sustainable for an entire season?
Chelsea have been really impressive of late and are certainly on the up. The switch to a back three with wing backs has made Antonio Conte’s team hard to beat and clinical going forward.
Diego Costa is on fire, Eden Hazard is a creative nuisance and Thibaut Courtois hasn’t conceded in 560 minutes leading up to the Everton match. The clean sheet in that 5-0 win makes it 650. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have shown themselves to be great at wing back with the fitness to get up and down their respective flanks. Conte’s tinkering with his formation has the Blues looking up instead of down.
Manchester City are still title favourites in many bookies eyes but hit a bad run by their standards up until last weekend.
Six games without a win have been followed by a 4-0 battering of West Brom and a convincing victory at home to Barcelona mid week. That should provide Guardiola and his team with confidence to push on with Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne looking back on form.
Tottenham had started October on a massive high with a win over City but things have gone slightly stale and it’s them who had gone six games without a win going in to the North London derby.
That run started away at West Brom where Toby Alderweireld picked up an injury. I’d go as far as to say his stability at the back is equally as missed as Harry Kane’s absence. Without the Belgian and when Eric Dier isn’t on it, his languid style really makes Spurs vulnerable as proven against Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley. The White Hart Lane club have the talent but this alarming run of form will need to be arrested soon.
Manchester United won three straight games at the start of the season but it’s been something very different since. Without a win since the 24th September in the league and only one league goal scored in October, United are the team on such a huge down at present.
It has people questioning Jose Mourinho’s abilities to turn this around. His fines and bans are all things the club don’t need right now and does pose the question of if we are seeing a shift – a shift where the psychology of the game is less important than developing team harmony? Is Mourinho’s “special” style becoming redundant?
Leicester proved last season that mind games don’t matter if you have a fantastic team ethic and work for each other. Maybe a change is happening.
There are sure to be ups and downs for all these teams as we close in on the Christmas period. Will Arsenal fumble with Europe in mind? Can United and Spurs regain some form? Can Liverpool and Chelsea keep up a challenge without the distraction of Europe? The answers to those questions are coming, it’s just I’m an impatient sort. And when it comes to the Premier League I don’t like waiting to find out…
Do you agree with Lynsey?