With 19 games in the bag and 19 more to go, thoughts on how the season has gone so far (top 3 teams only).
Liverpool FC: Liverpool have deservedly been in 1st place with a 6 point cushion over 2nd place Spurs at the mid point of the season. Playing an irresistible brand of high octane football Liverpool FC have speed to burn: Mane and Robertson on the left, Salah and Alexander on the right, Firmino up top. The muscle of Keita, Fabinho, Henderson, Milner and Shaqiri in the midfield, the steel of Virgil Van Dijk to shore up the defense and one of the best keepers in the league in Allison. When not attacking, Liverpool hunt in packs to get the ball back through a high press that often throws the opponent off. This brand of high intensity football has handsomely paid off with Liverpool blowing away their opponents and racking up an eye popping 51 points in 19 matches. A clear favorite to win the league now, barring catastrophic injuries and a loss of form.
Spurs: Who, what, where, when? How did Spurs ascend to second place of the premier league above City at the midway point of the season? Like every other season Spurs have the talent, they have the right coach, they are brilliant some of the time but they are inconsistent – world beaters one week, an ordinary team next week. But has this team matured? Has the added experience of being together for a few seasons now gelled the likes of Kane, Ericksen, Alli, Son, Alderweild, Trippier, Rose, Winks into a cohesive unit that can actually challenge the other top teams for the title? I guess only time will tell. I would not write the Spurs off though, not this season, should easily finish in the top 3, maybe even win the title if Liverpool should falter.
City: Clear favorites to retain the title on paper after racking up a historic 100 points last season and breaking 8 other premier league records, but they don’t play the game on fucking paper do they? The lunacy not to buy a backup for a 33 year old Fernandinho but instead to spend that money on a nonessential winger – Mahrez – is more than likely to bite the City hierarchy in the butt this season. Having just lost 3 out of 4 Premier League matches for the first time in the Pep Guardiola era, City are looking wobbly. But all was well with the City team until December 7th when City were rightfully in first place playing their style of keep away football and making their opponents look silly while dominating the pitch with their passing and winning second balls. Even with their best player: KDB, out for much of the season City looked like they would retain the title fairly comfortably.
Then the injuries came, first Benjamin Mendy, then David Silva, then Aguero, then Fernandinho and now the City team look hesitant, apprehensive, uncertain and look like a team wandering around in the fog without a flashlight. The absence of Fernandinho in the middle of the park to boss the midfield, to break up play, to chase down attackers and to join in the City attack is the cause of City falling apart in December in this writer’s opinion, in addition to playing with a new starting eleven every week for the past few matches. City can still get back in this race and push Liverpool until May granted David Silva, KDB, Aguero, Fernandinho stay healthy for the remainder of the season. If City fall 9 points or more behind Liverpool by February, Pep should give precedence to the Champions’ League.
Manchester United: (Guest post from Dhendup Sherpa): First things first, it’s not a great time to be a Manchester United fan. After the SAF era, United have been struggling even with world class players/managers in the team. Many pundits believe it’s the combination of SAF and David Gill (Chief Executive) leaving at the same time which has led to the recent struggles. But with the caretaker manager getting off to a good start and the players playing the brand of football United are usually associated with, it looks like United are headed in the right direction and there is reason to be optimistic.
2018-2019 – The season started with Jose Mourinho (JM) complaining about not getting his defensive transfer targets and the defeat against Brighton and the thrashing from Spurs made it seem like it was going to be a long and frustrating season. To add to the misery, JM’s feud with the likes of Pogba, Martial and Valencia did not help the cause. It probably seemed like Deja Vu for JM from his Chelsea days. It was just a matter of time before he got sacked.
Unlike Liverpool, where every signing Klopp has made and every substitute he brings on seems like a genius move, United have been just the opposite. With the likes of Sanchez and Pogba not performing to their full potential or justifying their insane price tags. The defensive issues continue to haunt United even though they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world. A few seasons ago, it seemed like Smalling and Jones would be the natural replacement for Ferdinand and Vidic but with consistent injuries to Jones, Smalling’s inconsistent performance and new signings Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly not convincing enough, United’s defense is still a work in progress. (It’s never a good sign when a team’s goalkeeper wins the player of the year award for years in a row).
The attack has been mediocre as well with Lukaku out of form and Rashford showing flashes of brilliance but never consistent. The same goes for Martial who had a terrific first season at United but is nowhere close to that level at present. In my opinion, Lingard looks more promising than ever (maybe because I didn’t expect much from him) and with his speed, he does provide a threat to the oppositions defense.
Matic, Pogba and Fellani provide a strong physical presence in the midfield and are always an aerial threat especially when it comes to set pieces but we are yet to see the best from them. New signing Fred is yet to feature consistently in this United lineup and I am curious to see how Ole is going to use him, if at all.
You know a team is in trouble when halfway through the season you still don’t know who your best eleven is (except the goalkeeper). The last two matches have shown what United are capable of given the opportunity to play attacking football and allowing the players to express themselves but the real test for Ole will be the away game against Spurs.
A top four finish this season would be quite an achievement but I am highly doubtful.
As a United fan, the biased and unrealistic part of me is secretly hoping that United would repeat what Chelsea did in the 2012 UEFA Champions League (don’t laugh, I have the right to wishful thinking). But more than anything, I am curious to see how the caretaker manager resolved the lingering issues at Old Trafford and even more curious as to who will be in charge at United next season.
I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, but then again, I have seen those lights before.