It has been an extraordinary season so far in the English Premier League a number of ways. Few would have thought that the defending champions Chelsea would be out of the title race so soon and 17 points off the top.
It reminds me of the dramatic collapse of Borussia Dortmund last season in the Bundesliga as their form fell off a cliff and looked a shadow of the team of previous seasons. They also face a Herculean task in even getting near the UCL places as they are 14 points adrift of 4th place.
Leicester City have surprised the world with their fantastic exploits this season and sit on top of the table. Their energy, spirit and quality have made a refreshing change to the usual suspects who normally dominate proceedings at the head of affairs at this time of year.
Past experience tells us that they wont be able maintain this level of performance but they can dream for now. The impact of the increased TV money has been felt strongly this season. It has certainly made the Premier League more competitive as some of the lesser lights in the league have been able to attract some fine players from other leagues.
West Ham and Stoke City are prime examples of clubs who have invested wisely and now have a much better finished product. Despite some lavish investment the bigger clubs have largely stood still or regressed whereas the other clubs have narrowed the gap.
Last weekend encapsulated this very well as Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all failed to win . Not only that, they all failed to score a single goal between them. It may very well be the case that the top teams have been caught flat footed by this new competitiveness and it will take a season or two for them to adapt to this new reality.
On the title race itself I still expect Manchester City to eventually rise to the top. At 6/4 (2.50) it looks an excellent investment and there are a couple of reasons why. It is a title race without Chelsea, so for Manchester City it is one competitor they don’t have to worry about.
It looks highly probable that Arsenal may have to settle for playing in the Europa League after Christmas. This means games on a Thursday night, which will undoubtedly damage their title prospects. It has been well documented the effect of having just a 2 day rest between games can have for teams when they face teams with 3 or more days rest.
A 27,000 match study by coach Raymond Verjheijen revealed that a team is up to 42 per cent less likely to win if they have only 2 days rest against an opponent with 3 or more days rest. This problem seems more pronounced for teams who play on a Sunday after playing in the Europa League on a Thursday.
My own theory is that it is because of the close proximity of playing on a Thursday to the weekend as opposed to playing on Wednesday and Saturday . Friday is generally the start of the window when players mentally prepare and focus on the weekend match.
This takes up mental energy and has an adverse effect when your body is in recovery mode after playing on Thursday .All combined it does have an effect on weekend performance which will cost you points . In order to avoid this, Arsenal need to win in Greece by at least 2 goals or score 3 goals and win by any margin.
Olympiakos have a very well established home record in the UCL winning 9 of the last 11 home matches in the competition. In their last 28 home matches in the UCL they have only lost by 2+ twice so it gives you an idea of the magnitude of the task facing Arsenal who have also failed to get to grips with their seasonal injury problems.
Manchester United although consistent and solid have failed to catch fire under Louis Van Gaal. They are robot like, devoid of imagination and risk averse. Sure, they are well organised defensively but there has been a price to pay at the other end of the pitch with only 20 goals scored.
They don’t register enough shots on target and simply dont create enough chances. They will finish in a UCL place without question but winning the league title looks a big ask.
Liverpool have put in some big performances since Jurgen Klopp took over and have been mentioned as possible title challengers. They are 9 points off the top of the tree and have only won 6 of their 15 league matches this season. Yes they have impressed greatly winning at Chelsea and Manchester City but their mediocre performances have been more frequent.
In terms of talent Manchester City are the best team in England. Their lack of appetite and focus has been
their Achilles heel in recent years. But they are the only team capable of going on a long winning run of up to 11 games as they demonstrated between April and September 2015.
It may very well be season where they win the league title with some comfort without having to get fully into their stride on a consistent basis. That is why I think they remain the team to beat and the team to bet on for the league title.
Manchester City 6/4 Paddy Power Premier League title winners 2015/16