As we approach the halfway mark in the Premier League season, Manchester City have stormed to the top of the table and look unstoppable. 16 consecutive wins on the bounce has seen the Citizens firmly establish themselves as favourites for the title but there is other battles taking place.
Below them, a number of sides are fighting it out for the three remaining Champions League spots- which carry more significance this season as UEFA’s changes mean that all top-four clubs in the Premier League automatically qualify for the group stage, which means that we won’t see games like Liverpool’s victory over Hoffenheim.
That makes the passage on the continent for England’s top sides slightly easier but the battle for the three spots is fiercer than ever; with Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur going toe-to-toe, with at least two of those sides sides set for disappointment.
As it stands, United, Liverpool and Chelsea are in the driving seat but just seven points separate second-placed from seventh, which adds another twist to the exciting Premier League campaign and increases the importance of the weeks ahead.
As is customary with English football, the Premier League calendar is rammed full of fixtures over the Christmas and New Year period, where the depth of the squad available to the sides within England’s top-tier is truly put to the test.
Each side has three games to play before the New Year, with another game then following in quick succession in 2018 before a week off from Premier League action for the FA Cup. Clearly, there is no room for mistakes and there is a number of huge clashes that could have quite an impact.
The first sees an in-form Arsenal tackle another side on top-form this season, Liverpool, in a showdown at the Emirates Stadium. Just a single point separates the two English giants and losing could open the door for those below them to take advantage, as well as handing a crucial boost to their opponents on Friday evening.
Chelsea also face a difficult final game before Christmas against a rejuvenated Everton side, whilst Manchester United and Tottenham could face challenges in their clashes against Leicester City and Burnley- the latter of whom are currently in the hunt for European football.
The early games of 2018 will also provide a huge impact, with Liverpool facing Burnley, Chelsea going head-to-head with Arsenal and Manchester United travelling to Everton. By mid-January, the battle for the top-four will be starting to take shape.
The leading men
What has made the Premier League most exciting this season is the array of talents across the division, with each top-side boasting players who could be in with a shout to be Player of the Year at the end of the campaign.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored twenty goals across all competitions already this season, whilst Arsenal have seen Mesut Ozil enjoy a spectacular period of form. At Chelsea, Antonio Conte’s squad have found a leader of their attack in Alvaro Morata whilst Romelu Lukaku is getting back-on-track with Manchester United, having scored in each of his last two appearances.
Tottenham, meanwhile, still have England’s finest in the form of Harry Kane and there’s other players within Mauricio Pochettino’s side, and the rest of the teams in the top seven, who can provide a huge impact- including the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Sadio Mane, Dele Alli, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
Keeping these players fit and in-form is crucial, which is why the busy festive period is challenging as the games come thick and fast. Fortunately, the majority of the top sides have ready made replacements ready to step-in but finding a player capable of filling the void left by someone like Salah or Kane is a real challenge.
What to expect
The landscape at the top of the table can change in the blink of an eye but the likelihood is that Manchester United will finish in the top-four this season, as the Red Devils are enjoying their best campaign since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Defending champions Chelsea also look strong, although a Champions League double-header with Barcelona in the Spring could provide problems, whilst Liverpool and Tottenham could endure similar struggles- especially as, on paper at least, they seem to lack the depth that their rivals boast.
Arsenal will benefit from an absence of Champions League football and have repeatedly shown they’re capable of stringing a late run of results together to force their way into the top-four, although this year there’s far less room for mistakes and the Gunners will need to find consistency.
Overall, what we can expect is a thrilling battle for Champions League football and all the pointers suggest it will last for the entire season.