Following the end of 2015’s series of International breaks, club football has once again taken centre stage, to pave way for four un-interrupted months of league action.
By the time the next set of FIFA engagements takes place in February, we will be greeted with a less ambiguous picture of clubs’ aspirations, heading into the sprint lap of 2015/2016’s marathon.
Enthralling Season, this.
That said, It’s been a dramatic start to the Barclays Premier League campaign, with jaw dropping results and heart warming match ups involving the big guns already recorded in the first thirteen weeks.
With Leicester City assuming a one point lead over Manchester United – who in turn maintain a point’s gap over Arsenal and Manchester City, fifth placed Spurs now also find themselves only four points adrift of top spot, while the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton are already looking to gain much needed ground in an attempt to meet the most minute of season expectations and translate that into continental qualification.
Exciting times at Spurs.
Judging by how Mauricio Pochettino’s men have gone about their business thus far, this season represents Tottenham’s best chance of finishing fourth since their last top four finish in 2012. The fitness level as well as the ambition of the team has taken an upward turn, which only goes to show how well the players are taking to the Argentine coach’s philosophy and instructions.
With the club boasting the longest unbeaten run in the league (12), Tottenham would class the start they’ve made as an ideal way to begin the search for a second stint at Champions League football. Establishing a rich vein of form for star players such as Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane as well as the emergence of midfield duo – Eric Dier and Dele Alli, Pochettino’s side look to have found the right balance between youth and experienced talent.
Spurs will only need to hope Chelsea don’t screw them over once again, by securing Champions League qualification through the back door with a victory in the competition in May…
Planning for a new stadium, imbibing the youth culture into the team and eyeing a top four spot, you’d be forgiven to think Spurs were the new dominant team in North London. Pochettino’s side have on eye on the future and have no doubt taken a leaf from Arsenal’s successful ‘teething period’ notes. Only time will reveal the success level of Daniel Levy’s master plan.
Jose’s ‘little horse’ back at the Bridge?
The nightmare start Chelsea have made to the defence of their Premier League title was rather vague in the narrow win over Norwich City on Saturday but Jose Mourinho’s side must have now lowered their expectations to that of a foal among fully grown horses.
A lot has been said about Mourinho threading uncharted territory, which makes for a fascinating fight back from the Portuguese to once again to guide and galvanize his side back to familiar territory.
After refusing to purchase another midfielder to secure Nemanja Matic’s fitness and Cesc Fabregas’ defensive shortcomings, it became quite apparent that Chelsea’s special one wasn’t keen on adopting the same strategy he used to secure back to back league success in his first stint at the Bridge.
Now faced with a daunting task of keeping Chelsea in the Champions League beyond this season, Jose finds himself in a similar path familiar to his long time foe, Arsene and would get a taste of how difficult it is to make the top four after a snail-ish start.
Pellegrini left blue faced.
Defence, as well as goal difference could be the key to securing the league title this season and it appears Manuel Pellegrini has come to terms with that. This explains his fury at his side’s distorted performance against Liverpool at the Etihad, as City’s defence not only looked incompetent, but also gave their attack a goal deficit that has hampered the recent progress made, with a couple of clean sheets recorded in the last few weeks.
Nonetheless, the return of Aguero to fitness and form would help heal the team’s uncharacteristic scars and the club’s fine form in the Champions League so far could help Pellegrini’s men focus on recovering lost points on the domestic front heading into their next big game, which takes them on a trip to the Emirates in a month from now.
Arsenal down to bare bones.
Capitulation is a word that has often been used to describe Arsenal in the second half of the season, but with the club suffering a replica of the injury crisis in midfield they endured almost at this same stage last season, the jury is already out on Arsene in maintaining his side’s title push before Christmas.
Key to the Gunners’ challenge for Premier League glory has been the form and fitness of Francis Coquelin. With the Frenchman now expected to face a lengthy spell in the treatment room, Arsene must research for another holding midfield revelation within the team.
That option could come in the frame of Calum Chambers, who now needs minutes and experience under his belt, to stand a chance of cementing a regular position and harbour any genuine hopes of being selected by England for the Euros next summer. With every team in the top five boasting of a screener with grace and gumption, giving a developing player a chance to grow into that role in the absence of one is a no brainer.
Is Firmino the ‘other Sturridge’ Liverpool need?
Like Chelsea, with the start Liverpool made to the first two months of the campaign, finishing in the top four would represent a satisfying coup for Jurgen Klopp and his new Red Army. However, with impressive results over rivals away from home and stuttering ones on home soil, the Reds would be hoping they aren’t the Merseyside version of August and September’s West Ham.
Klopp’s team can already take solace from the dividends of their emerging high octane style and would do well to maintain their current tempo, heading into a busy spell in the next couple of weeks, before dashing into the transfer market in January.
An area which may not be targeted as an urgency to strengthen is in attack, with the rise of Firmino into Premier League reckoning. The Brazilian looked flawless and on the same wavelength with star man, Phillipe Coutinho at the Etihad last weekend and could be the foil needed for former Manchester City man, Daniel Sturridge, as Liverpool continue their search for a system independent of the availability of their best finisher.
If Saturday’s performance at the Etihad is anything to go by, it’s fair to say the exciting times at Anfield is within reach. The Reds put on a Sterling show against Raheem and the rest of his teammates, beating the Citizens’ offside trap repeatedly with incisive movement and passing reminiscent of Klopp’s Dortmund and Arsene’s top guns. Merseyside can breathe red optimism once again.
The opinion of many critiques on the reserved approach of Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy can be elucidated as rife, to say the least. However, the Dutchman has stuck to his task of being within touching distance of top spot; a feat Sir Alex Ferguson expertly achieved (and was deservedly lauded for), almost for the entirety of his time at the Old Trafford dug-out.
While some may argue that LVG has gone about his business with too many millions, it should be noted that the transfer market and competition in the Premier League represent two factors on an upward curve, and there’s nothing to suggest that the slope will be descending anytime soon.
More so, like United and Arsenal’s longest serving managers, the Dutchman is putting a lot of faith in youth, especially in his front four and it shouldn’t be underestimated, how daring it is for a man under so much pressure to fast track United’s path to redemption.
With United and Arsenal both wrestling for the title (alongside some more company) for the first time since 2011, the fight brings back with it, a nostalgic feeling certain to be cherished by supporters of both clubs. Both teams will absolutely play a major role in deciding whose pendulum the title will swing towards, by the time May comes calling.