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Whilst the first 20 games of the Premier League campaign usually serve as a measure of things to come, this season has been one of the closest ever and there have been surprises week–upon-week. With a top 6 separated by just 8 points, one could feasibly argue that any of those sides within it has the potential to mount a charge for the title, such has been the nature of the league thus far.
The current leaders, Arsenal, are seeking to win their first trophy since 2005 and were the league’s best performing outfit in 2013, though their chances of ending the drought will surely have been adversely affected by the loss of Theo Walcott for the remainder of the season. Manchester City on the other hand boast a squad with real depth, allowing them to cope with injuries, and are in fantastic form, unbeaten in 9 league games at the time of writing. Their strengths are mirrored by José Mourinho’s Chelsea, though a lack of goals for his side’s strikers may have a telling factor in their pursuit of the Premier League crown, which they won with the Portuguese at the helm in 2005 and 2006.
Liverpool currently occupy 4th position and probably would have taken that spot at the end of the season had it been offered to them in August. However, the form of Luis Suárez in particular has propelled them in to title contention, whilst the return of Daniel Sturridge from injury will only strengthen the belief that the Anfield side could be the champions of England for the first time since 1990. Fellow Merseyside club Everton have performed above expectations too and find themselves in 5th place ahead of the derby with their arch-rivals at the end of January. Roberto Martínez has built upon the work of his predecessor and will be hopeful that his side can repeat the feat of the 2004-5 season when Everton qualified for the Champions League.
Whilst their North London adversaries have excelled in the Premier League this season, Tottenham Hotspur have struggled to reach anticipated heights. Though they lost star player Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, the squad was reinforced with over £100m of new signings, however many of the recruits have failed to perform. A revival looks set to be taking shape under André Villas-Boas’ replacement Tim Sherwood; though ground lost earlier in the campaign could cost Spurs their hopes of achieving Champions League qualification.
Perhaps the most surprising performance or lack thereof, this season has been that of reigning champions Manchester United. Whilst the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson was bound to cause disruption at the club, few could have anticipated David Moyes would find it so difficult to follow in his footsteps. A string of uncharacteristic home defeats surmise the difficult transition period and it could be some time before the Old Trafford side return to the form that saw them win 13 of the first 21 Premier League titles.
At the other end of the table, there are a number of sides who could only dream of experiencing the purported issues that Manchester United are going through. Sunderland, bottom of the table at Christmas, will be hoping to replicate the achievement of West Bromwich Albion who are the only team to survive that fate in Premier League history. However, the side’s lack of consistency looks set to scupper any improvement made under Gus Poyet who was left with a mismatched and disillusioned squad by Paolo Di Canio.
West Ham United likewise are a side who will be seeking improvement in the new year as they strive to propel themselves up the Premier League table. Their cup exits could prove to be a blessing in disguise, as the club will be able to focus solely on their league campaign, whilst the return to fitness of record signing Andy Carroll will be a boost to squad morale.
Newly promoted Crystal Palace, currently at the foot of the table, will be hoping that Tony Pulis’ experience will be enough to guide them away from relegation. The addition of new recruits in January may also prove vital, which could be the case at fellow strugglers, Cardiff City too. Fulham, in the Premier League since 2001, should have enough about themselves to avoid a return to The Championship, though René Meulensteen’s side must become more consistent to ensure survival for a 12th straight season. Aston Villa and Norwich must improve in this respect too, to avoid being pulled in to the mire.
Ultimately the fate of the Premier League will be settled in the forthcoming 16 games, though one would expect Manchester City to regain the title with Arsenal as runners-up, whilst Cardiff City, Sunderland and West Ham United look to be in danger of falling through the league’s trap door.