Before the Premier league kicked off, many football pundits and fans all over the world had their say on who all will be the top four teams in the premier league, come end of May 2010. Would it be the regular four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal or would the money bag Manchester City make a dent in the top four or would it be the consistent Everton, ever-improving Aston Villa or the temperamental Tottenham Hotspurs. Let’s take a look at the current position of the top four teams after 8 or in some cases 7 matches and see if we can predict who will remain in the top four.
For this exercise I am taking into consideration only these 8 teams who in my humble opionion will be able to challenge for the top four. So at the outset, we can see that the teams who have played 8 games (Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs and Liverpool) have played 4 games at home and 4 away. And of the teams which have played 7 games, 2 teams have had 3 games at home ( in the case of Man City and Arsenal) and 2 teams have had 4 games at home (Villa and Everton). So with this I think the stage is set for us to further evaluate how the top four teams have fared till now.
Played 8 Points 21
Home record: P4W4D0L0GF10GA1 Away record: P4W3D0L1GF8GA5
So far this season: Chelsea has been a team which has settled very well and plays at home with a lot of energy. Bench strength is currently strong. Among the teams they have played so far strong opposition has been in the form of Spurs and Liverpool, both of whom they defeated in convincing style. So thats a big positive. In the negative side they lost away to Wigan which was not expected. So they have some chinks in their armour which can get exposed by teams like Man City and Aston Villa. I strongly believe that they will beat Manchester United and probably Arsenal this year.
As the season progresses: They can suffer in December when they lose Drogba and Essien among others due to the AFC cup. And with the transfer ban (against which they have appealed) they might not be able to bring in anymore new players into the team. And we know the quality of their youth teams, so this is something which can prove costly. And in Decemeber and January the key clashes they have are – Man City(A), Everton (H), West Ham (A) and Fulham (H). These are tricky matches for them during that time. Remember Lampard who scored 12 goals last season hasn’t yet put his shooting boots on!!!
Prediction: To win the league if they manage to not screw-up in the Dec-Jan window.
2. Manchester United
Played 8 Points 19
Home record: P4W3D1L0GF9GA6 Away record: P4W3D0L1GF10GA2
So far this season: It has been a season of a lot of toil. This team is missing their goal-scoring midfielder in Ronaldo. He has not been replaced and please note that Valencia is NOT a replacement for Ronaldo. Their bench strength is suspect and players like Giggs and Rooney will have to give 200% on the field for this team to win any silverware this year. But they have their attitude still in place which has given them some very narrow wins and draws this season. Strong opposition was in the form of Spurs, whom they beat convincigly, Arsenal whom they beat not so convincingly and Man City whom they beat without convincing anyone. This team has been extremely lucky so far and I seriously wonder where they might have been against a wonderful Sunderland if not for that late late equaliser. It is interesting to note that once considered a fortress, Old Trafford has rained goals this season with the opponents scoring 6 goals in 4 matches.
As the season progresses: Their luck will run out sometime soon and the players will have to stand up and be counted, which they do most of the time. But an injury to Rooney may be the end of the season for United the way things stand. You never know, AF might even buy some quality player in the January transfer window to spruce up the squad. Last year this team lost 4 matches and drew 6. And this year it has already lost to first timers Burnley.
Prediction: Could end up in 2nd place with luck like this or else 3rd for sure
Played 7 Points 15
Home record: P3W3D0L0GF14GA3 Away record: P4W2D0L2GF10GA7
So far this season: Arsenal started the league with a thundering performance against Everton and except for the two losses in Manchester in which they were the better side in one, and the tight match against Fulham the season has been again one of flamboyant football when they have possession. When they lose possession, they seem prone for counter-attacks and nerves start showing. The league’s top scorer with 24 goals in 7 games, Arsenal has been excellent at home. But how they lost composure at Old Trafford and the Eastlands will be something in which this team under Wenger has not shown any improvement. And it is because of this alone that I will not rate this team to win the league. They had quality opposition in the form of Everton, Man United and Man City in which they lost two and won one.
As the season progresses: Last year Arsenal lost 6 matches and drew 12. And two of the matches which they lost this year were fixtures which they had won last year. So that is a concern and this team can again lose a couple more matches and probably against Chelsea and maybe another team which can break up their play and frustrate them. But I do not see that happenening as long as they have the flair players like Arshavin, Cesc, Walcott, Rosickyand Eduardo fit and playing. Remember we haven’t yet seen Nasri and Vela in action this year. Challenges could be when Song will go missing in action during AFC cup when the Gunners have some tough fixtures like Liverpool(A), Aston Villa (H), Everton (H), Aston Villa (H) and Manchester United(H). There is a very very tough 10 days period when Arsenal play United(home, Jan 30th), Chelsea (away, Feb 6th) and Liverpool (home, Feb 9th). This could make or break their season.
Prediction: To finish 2nd (optimistic) or 3rd (pessimistic)
Played 8 Points 15
Home record: P4W3D0L1GF15GA4 Away record: P4W2D0L2GF7GA8
So far this season: This year many football pundits predicted Liverpool to win the league, which I don’t think they will now. They(read Rafa) will not admit it, but it has indeed been a poor start and the bad news is that it can get worse. This team finished last season so strongly it could not have been in this state of affair, if it had got a worthy replacement for Alonso, maybe Barry. What was Rafa doing when Barry was talking to Man City. Aquilani might just crumble under the pressure to perform when he is back to complete fitness. It is really stupid of Rafa to buy a player who will be ready only by November/Decemeber in a year in which he knew he had a good chance of winning the premier league if he could build on the squad of last year. Let us not get into his scouting and transfer dealings, but why does he have to come out and shout each and every instruction from the touchline, when his team is playing. His team is mature enough to handle the match-situation. Either his team talk in the dressing room doesn’t work everytime or he thinks his team is stupid. They lost two matches in the whole of last year and this year they have already lost 3 and one of them at home. Agreed that they have lost to three strong teams (Chelsea, Spurs and Villa), but their Champions League outing against Fiorentina and too much dependance on Torres and Gerrard are not healthy signs of a good team.
As the season progresses: They have a tough couple of weeks coming up where they have to play Lyon in the Champions League (home, Oct 20th), Man Utd(home, Oct 25th) and Lyon (away, Nov 4th) again in the Champions League where they have to win to qualify for the next round. Rafa cannot put all his bets on Aquilani clicking else this could be his last year in Anfield. I can see them losing more matches in which Torres can be frustrated and the players coming on from the bench are not upto the Premier League standards.
Prediction: Yes, Liverpool will be the team to lose out of the Top Four this year if they continue like this.