As we reach the halfway point in the 2016-17 Premier League season, one thing alone seems strikingly certain: the health of the English domestic game has been restored to somewhere close to its mid-noughties pomp. To say this is to imply that it has been somewhat lacking of late, which might come as a surprise to some of you. Yet, delicious as it may have been in its undiluted ludicrousness, Leicester City being crowned champions does not point to a highly competitive, continentally-dominant Premier League. Quite the opposite. It was ludicrous not only in the fact that Leicester were so good, but that the rest were so abjectly bad.
However, normal service has been resumed, as we thought it might well be. As a result, we could just be looking at a six-horse race for the Premier League crown.
Chelsea have been imperious, and have opened up a gap on the chasing pack. Championship-winners Hazard and Costa have been revitalised under Conte, who has brought a steely system in which everyone knows their role and is able to perform it. It is simple football at its best, and it has led to the Premier League revivals of some unlikely figures in David Luiz and Victor Moses. Yet, as Tottenham showed at the Lane over the festive period, they can be beaten.
Spurs have quietly continued the convincing impression of a decent football team that they performed last season, to such a successful extent that it’s beginning to appear like they might actually be one. Pochettino has them drilled and oiled, and in Alli and Eriksen they have players capable of winning any game.
In Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal have a world-class performer at the peak of his powers, no matter what Alan Shearer says. With him buzzing about at the fulcrum of an attack that features Ozil, Giroud, and the increasingly impressive Alex Iwobi, the Gunners are giving us no reason to doubt their annual top-four finish.
And then there’s Liverpool. They say dogs look like their owners – well, this Liverpool side are built in the image of their manager. Quick, feisty, relentless, and stylish, the likes of Mané, Lallana and Coutinho are a genuine pleasure to behold, just like Klopp himself. They will take some beating.
Staying up north, Manchester City are not without their frailties, as exposed by a number of clubs this season. However, the sight of De Bruyne, Silva, Aguero and Sterling knocking the ball menacingly about in Pep’s inimitable style is enough to strike fear into any opposition. As indeed was that interview.
And finally, the sleeping giant: United. For the first time since Sir Alex hung up his hairdryer, the Old Trafford fear-factor is back. With the combined talents of Pogba, Ibrahimovich and Mkhitaryan added to an already underperforming squad, the familiar chorus of ‘Attack! Attack! Attack!’ is being met with a formidable response. After a shaky start, The Special One appears to be getting it right. Like anyone doubted he would.
So which one of them will win it? You might as well pick a name out of a hat. One thing is for sure though: the day of the underdog is well and truly done.
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