The current ladder for the English Premier League looks pretty different to what we have become accustomed to this far into the season, that much is certain. Sure, it’s not like Crystal Palace and Norwich are leading the league or anything and it’s also not like Chelsea and Man City are fighting a relegation battle, but still things are different.
Arsenal and Liverpool, despite still being two of the biggest clubs in the league, have not won anything in a long time and had become much more associated with just trying to qualify for European football than actually winning the league.
Obviously there is a lot of season still to play and it’s entirely possible they end up exactly where they usually do, anywhere from third to about seventh, but 15 games into the season both clubs look like legitimate contenders, especially Arsenal.
Before the season started I wrote that Arsenal could take a backwards step this year as pressure on Arsene Wenger grew and they had failed in their bid to sign Luis Suarez. Of course shortly after I wrote that, they went and signed Mesut Ozil and everything changed.
Now obviously Ozil isn’t the only thing that has gone right with them this season, but I honestly believe the other things don’t fall into place without that feel-good, last minute signing. Credit has to be given to them for pulling it off after failing so publicly in trying to sign Suarez.
Along with Ozil, Arsenal’s midfield has been fantastic. Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are now living up to every bit of hype they received when they broke through and Ramsey especially has now silenced a lot of people questioning how good he really was or could be. He had the potential to be one of those highly talented youngsters that fizzles out and ends up just being OK. Instead he has gone the other way and is now a player opponents needs to be very scared of and is in fact Arsenal’s leading scorer so far.
When you add guys like Cazorla and Arteta along with the return of Flamini, Arsenal’s midfield is to be envied.
Up front Giroud is very good too, but clearly their biggest risk is if he gets hurt or runs into bad form as they don’t have much behind him. They are built heavily around him at the pointy end and they need him to stay there, unless they go shopping in January.
Liverpool are a fascinating case. Their top end players are fantastic, especially Suarez obviously. The season he is having is bordering on the ridiculous. Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and of course Steven Gerrard are superb as well. Guy like Lucas and Glen Johnson are also very good and would make almost every other starting 11 in the league. Mignolet has been solid in goal too. But the step down to everyone else is extremely steep. The defence has looked horrid and Brendan Rodgers still cannot figure out the best pairing. Skrtel has become a massive liability and John Flanagan has been getting minutes out of position at left back.
This situation leads to not knowing if the team will win 4-1 or lose 3-1 like they did at Hull.
With Gerrard and Sturridge now hurt for a while, it will be very interesting to see how this depth issue impacts them before they can buy more players in January, which Rodgers has been vocal about doing.
The biggest story this season however has to be the fall of Manchester United. David Moyes has been getting a lot of blame and is under increasing pressure for how poorly the team has done and some of it is warranted, but honestly some of it isn’t. Even though they won the title last season, I genuinely don’t think he inherited that good of a playing roster. They are built around Rooney and van Persie and with RVP injured they simply don’t have that many players of that quality. They also have an aging defence that is starting to struggle and some of their younger players coming through are either not fully ready or don’t have the upside at all.
Guys like Tom Cleverley just aren’t that good.
The one major criticism that can be levelled at Moyes in my opinion is that he spent the offseason trying to raid his former club in Everton, only ended up getting Fellaini and to say he has been a failure so far would be an insult to the word failure. Fellaini has been HORRIBLE.
Man U fans hate him already and if he doesn’t turn it around soon he could well be forced to leave the club after just one season.
Moyes needs to rebuild the squad and in van Persie asks to leave, it makes it that much harder. He too might be looking to buy in January, but I suspect he will mostly have to overhaul the squad next off season and just do what he can to at least try qualify for Europe this season. Right now they are seven points behind fourth, which they can certainly make up if they can turn it around, but that is a very big if.
It almost feels like Liverpool and Man U have swapped roles in the league this year.
Meanwhile, a stat I think is the most interesting to this point of the season is the Man City goal difference. After 15 games and despite being in fourth place (although only one point behind second), Man City have an incredible +26 goal difference. That means in 15 games and despite four losses and two draws, they have score 26 more goals than their opponents. When Man City are in form, they don’t just win, they demolish.
They beat Norwich 7-0 and the Tottenham 6-0, but in between those wins they lost to the struggling Sunderland. That basically sums up Man City. Their best is clearly better than anyone else, but they still have a few too many games where they just don’t click. If they can find that consistency, they will win the title without much problem, but until then, they are team of champions rather than a championship team, to use the old cliché.
I also haven’t even mentioned Chelsea yet, but that basically just goes to show the fact that they have been going about their business, have a solid structure and are going to be right there at the end of the season, despite not having a single goal scorer doing it consistently. They really must be regretting loaning out Lukaku to Everton right now and yet, they are still right there and can win the title. But that’s Mourinho for you.
Going forward the Man U saga will remain the season’s biggest talking point along with whether we will see a team win the title that hasn’t won it for a while. We are really entering the dog days of the season now and with the January transfer window opening up, teams will get a chance to change their fortunes.
But either way, it has already been one of the closest and most interesting EPL seasons I can remember and I think fans are the biggest winners of all.