With the Premier League season entering its business end an almost unprecedented four horse race for the title has unfolded, with each of the contenders having a realistic shot at league glory. Fred Stanley Sport takes a look at how each of the teams stack up, comparing their managers, key men and their remaining fixtures as we approach ‘squeaky bum’ time..
Games played: 30
The Blues currently have a four point lead at the top of the table in the first season of manager Jose Mourinho’s second spell at the club, although they’ve played more games than any of the other title challengers. A lack of top quality strike options has been offset by an abundance of talented midfield players, from the mercurial Eden Hazard to the ever-reliable Frank Lampard and Ramires, while the back four has been led by captain John Terry and the rapidly improving Gary Cahill. Petr Cech remains one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe and as a result the team is incredibly strong though its spine, as it was during Mourinho’s first spell at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho, the self-acclaimed ‘Special One’ has once more inspired an immediate turn around in his first season at the Bridge, installing a defence that has conceded fewer goals than anyone else in the league (23). His explosive personality makes him a media favourite and often sees him land on the back page of newspapers, but in addition to self-promotion his stunts often effectively take the heat off of his players. Tactically he’s spot on and knows when to go for the throat and when to shut up shop, while Mourinho also has the experience of winning titles in England, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Of any of the current managers in the Premier League Mourinho is undoubtedly the most decorated.
John Terry often comes in for stick from opposition fans, perhaps rightly so after some of his on and off-field antics, yet he remains one of the finer defenders in the country. England’s loss following Terry’s international retirement has been Chelsea’s gain, and a series of stellar performances at the heart of the Blues defence has inspired his team to rise to the top of the table. If Terry can remain fit it’s difficult to see anyone finding the net on more than one occasion against Chelsea, something that’ll make them difficult to beat in their remaining fixtures.
A home game against Arsenal this Saturday will be a big test for the Blues but at Stamford Bridge Chelsea will be favourites to pick up three points in that one. Apart from a visit to Anfield in April the rest of their remaining fixtures are definitely winnable, with games against the likes of Cardiff, Norwich, Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea and Crystal Palace still to come.
Games Played: 29
Manager Brendan Rodgers has described his Liverpool side as the ‘chihuahuas’ of the title race, an observation largely based on the relatively small amount of money they have spent in comparison to Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet despite being the underdogs in many peoples minds Liverpool have a more than realistic shot at title glory, with the ‘SAS’ combination of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge leading the line brilliantly as the Reds have amassed a league leading 76 goals. If the back four can continue its gradual improvement then they’ll really be a team to fear, giving them every chance of ending a two decade long title drought.
Rodgers has seen his side improve beyond measure from their seventh placed finish last year, with captain Steven Gerrard leading the way in applauding the Irishman’s man management skills. Tactically Rodgers has also been spot on, gradually moving away from the possession based system he employed while at Swansea to a fast paced, counter attacking model that utilises the pace of Sturridge and England hopeful Raheem Sterling. Rodgers may lack experience at the top end of the Premier League but he’s yet to show any signs of cracking up, and his good relationship with Mourinho has helped him avoid being a target of the Special One’s barbs.
Who else but Luis Suarez. The Premier League’s leading scorer has cooled off in front of goal recently but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t contributed to the overall team effort, as he has constantly supplied his partner Sturridge with exquisite service. Suarez has the rare ability to get past players despite below average pace, and his selflessness with the ball at his feet has only heightened his influence on those around him. How different things could have been if Arsenal had raised their bid for him in the summer by £10 million (and a pound) or more.
Although Liverpool still have to play Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea they get to play all three at Anfield, which has developed into a fortress this season. Away games against West Ham, Cardiff and Norwich won’t be easy but they’re all certainly winnable with the form the Reds are currently in.
Games Played: 29
Having waited since 2005 Arsenal fans could be forgiven for thinking this could be the year that they end their prolonged trophy drought, with the club progressing to the last four of the F.A. Cup and positioning itself for a title run in the season’s final two months. However having sat top of the pile for a large part of the year the Gunners have struggled in recent weeks to live up to their early hype, with the club also being eliminated from the Champions League by holders Bayern Munich. Midfield talisman Aaron Ramsey’s injury hasn’t helped matters, nor has record signing Mesut Ozil’s loss of form, yet manager Arsene Wenger will be confident of winning the title if his side can replicate their form from this point last season, when they went on to win seven and draw two of their final nine contests.
Arsenal’s match against Chelsea on Saturday will be his 1000th game in charge of the North London club, a magnificent achievement of longevity from the Frenchman. However many more cynical fans will point out that his past 500 games have failed to bring a trophy after his initial 500 matches in charge were so successful. Wenger can often rightfully be accused of failing to spend money on areas where it has needed to be spent, yet his overall portfolio remains magnificent and his experience winning league titles and cup doubles will help his side during this season’s Premier League run in.
Olivier Giroud remains Arsenal’s only Premier League worthy striker, a deficiency that lies directly at Wenger’s feet. However when Giroud is on form he’s a fearsome proposition for even the best back four, as his physical stature allows him to pose a threat both with his feet and aerially. If Arsenal are to win the league then Giroud must fire – something he is more than capable of doing if not for a prolonged period.
The Gunners still have to visit Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park this season, while they must also host Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium. While those three games will be difficult easier away trips against the likes of Hull City and home ties against Swansea, West Ham and West Brom should help Arsenal keep pace with those around them.
Games Played: 27
Although Manchester City currently lie fourth in the table they have two games in hand on Liverpool and Arsenal and have three games to make up on Chelsea. This suggests that their current position is slightly false, and having exited the Champions League last week they no longer have the added distraction of any European games on the horizon. When firing on all cylinders the City attack is quite simply frightening, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo finding the net with ease. However with Aguero likely to miss a few more games with a recurrence of his hamstring injury it’ll be left to his two deputies to carry City’s goal-scoring burden, though they’ll be ably assisted by Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri.
Manuel Pellegrini has come under attack from Jose Mourinho on more than one occasion in the press this season, although the Chilean has dealt calmly with the bullets fired in his direction. A lack of a league title while in charge of Real Madrid got him the boot from the Bernabeau a few years ago; a similar failure at the Etihad could see him come under fire on these shores as well. A shock F.A Cup exit to Wigan won’t have helped Pellegrini as he looks to build on his side’s Capital One Cup victory last month, a victory that may not be enough to keep him in a job if he falters in the league.
Yaya Toure has often been the driving force behind City’s success in recent season’s, something that has continued during this campaign. His fantastic goal against Sunderland at Wembley last month helped turn the tide in a game City looked destined to lose, and his powerful runs and excellent technical prowess will be needed more than ever as City look to regain the title they won back in 2011/12.
The Citizens still have to play all of Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool away from home and 12 points from those contests will be more than just a tough ask. However City have a much easier slate of home games yet to come, including ties against West Ham, Aston Villa, West Brom, Sunderland and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium.
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