In the first half of the English Premier League season, a number of teams have led the league standings at some point, but with a whole four months of soccer left to play, only a handful have a chance to actually hoist the trophy in May.
Legitimate Title Contenders
Some fans were quick to dismiss Manchester City as title contenders when they won just three of their first eight games. Since then, however, City have not lost a game and have picked up 29 of a possible 33 points en route to leading the league at the halfway mark. The second-highest scoring team in the league, City have complemented their free-flowing attack with an additional dimension — a stout defense, which has conceded the fewest goals of any EPL team so far. Ambivalent fans may be tired of seeing a resurgent City trend towards their fifth title in 10 years, but don’t be fooled. There are a handful of other teams still very much in championship contention.
After playing 13 matches unbeaten, Manchester United finally slipped up in a shocking defeat at home to last place against Sheffield United on Jan. 27. The loss may have revealed that this Manchester United team is no different from the United of previous years: all hype, no bite and most importantly, no titles in the last eight seasons. However, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has transformed United into a potent counter-attacking team. Led by Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who has already scored 11 goals and assisted seven times this season, the second-place team is poised to make its first legitimate challenge for the EPL crown since the 2012-13 season.
Although many people are quick to point out that reigning champion Liverpool have not won an EPL game since December 2020, The Reds, currently sitting in fifth place, are not far off from the top. That’s right, the same Liverpool team that did not score a goal in four straight matches is only seven points behind league leader Manchester City. The turn of events that has led to these standings seems unlikely, but it is crucial to remember the ferocity of Liverpool’s offence. Despite their goal drought, The Reds have still scored more goals than any other team in the EPL.
Liverpool’s defense has seemed shaky ever since the injury of Dutch center-back Virgil van Dijk in October 2020, which means the team will have to reinvigorate its offense to have any chance of winning back-to-back EPL trophies. Recent history suggests the attack will be able to start scoring again, as Liverpool have finished in the top four for goals scored in each of the previous four seasons. Plus, with Portuguese forward and midfielder Diogo Jota, who scored five goals in nine appearances before his injury, set to return in early February, Liverpool will start to look again like the offensive juggernaut that earned its first-ever Premier League title in the 2019-20 season.
Battle for Fourth Place
Besides the three frontrunners, Leicester City, Tottenham, Everton and Chelsea have each led the league at one point or another, and they plan to battle it out for a spot in the top six.
One season removed from a fifth-place finish and, as a result, missing out on a spot in the Champions League, Leicester City look poised to challenge for a top-four finish. New defensive starters James Justin and Wesley Fofana have been invaluable stoppers, and the James Maddison-Jamie Vardy connection continues to churn out goals, with a combined 17 between them.
Under the stewardship of manager José Mourinho, Tottenham appear destined for a top-four finish after just missing out last season. The Spurs’ defensive four, the second best in the league, should cancel out any offensive downfalls. Forwards Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane have each scored 12 goals, but when they have an off day, the team’s offence becomes stale and unimaginative, with no other player scoring more than three. Thankfully for Spurs fans, Son and Kane’s off days are hard to come by, and they should be able to propel the Spurs to at least a spot in the Europa League.
Battle for Fifth Place
Since manager Carlo Ancelotti took the helm at Everton in December 2019, the Toffees have been revitalized. Often an inconsistent team stumbling to a mid-table finish, Everton aim to finish in the top six for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Defenders Yerry Mina and Michael Keane are staunch in the back, midfielder James Rodríguez infuses creativity into the side, and striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has a chance to be the first Everton player to ever win the EPL Golden Boot.
What seemed like a promising start to the season for Chelsea under manager and former club legend Frank Lampard deteriorated, as the Blues won just two of their previous eight games before firing Lampard on Jan. 25. Blues fans had better hope striker Timo Werner starts scoring again soon because, despite his resume in the Bundesliga with Red Bull Leipzig, his poor form has only hurt his new team. Wingers Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi have the ability to be playmakers, but they, too, have been unconvincing in recent matches. Of the teams battling for a top-six spot, Chelsea seems the most likely to miss out.
Christian Baldari is a freshman in the College. Bringing the Heat appears online every other week.