Manchester City has made something of a mockery of the Premier League title race, but there is no shortage of talking points
In Pep Guardiola’s debut season last term, Manchester City finished 15 points behind champion Chelsea. The disappointment forced City to invest heavily, and the result is football that is not merely beautiful but also dominant. City has left rivals trailing in the dust and forced several rival managers to acknowledge that the title race is all but over. Will the new year spring a surprise?
De Bruyne’s ‘health’
Has City locked up the Premier League title already? A 15-point lead at the top after 22 games suggests that Guardiola & Co. will walk away with the crown in May. But there is a growing concern among City fans that the path may not be as rosy as first thought. Of late, City’s opponents have made a point of ‘physically’ targeting the team’s best player, Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has been fortunate to escape serious injury against Tottenham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace, but he’ll continue to attract attention. The City manager, though, has asked the referees to protect the players; he may have to use the playmaker judiciously to lay his hands on the prize.
The race for Europe
The most compelling drama over the final 16 games of the season is likely to revolve around the battle for the remaining three Champions League berths. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal have been helping each other’s cause with some inconsistent performances. United, Chelsea and Spurs have indicated that they will strengthen their squads to push forward their cases while Liverpool and Arsenal are set to lose their game-changers. Unless they fill the gap with world-class players, they will finish outside the CL spots. But the Gunners still have the Europa League route to regain its spot in the CL.
Burnley’s audition as a club to be reckoned with
It is no coincidence that Burnley is in the upper echelons of the Premier League. Hard work and organisation — coupled with outstanding quality in forward areas — have lifted the team to this level. In Sean Dyche, the Clarets have a coach who spends every penny sensibly. Having troubled some of the leading Premier League teams this season, the Clarets can even dream of landing a Europa League spot.
It’s not all gloom and doom, but the tension is mounting at the foot of the table. A change in coach has worked favourably for Crystal Palace and West Ham, but West Brom and Swansea have not seen any positive development. Southampton, Newcastle and Bournemouth are at risk of being dragged into a relegation scrap if one goes by their recent performances, but Stoke will make sure that they stay in the top flight. Unless something unusual happens, West Brom, Swansea and Stoke will be taking a short summer break before returning to kick off the 2018-19 season in the first week of August. In the Championship.
Kane v Salah for bragging rights
The race for the Golden Boot has become tighter after the Tottenham sharpshooter bagged back-to-back hat-tricks against Burnley and Southampton. He ended 2017 as the greatest goal-getter in all of Europe’s major leagues. His rival Mohamed Salah has emerged as the star of the first half of the season, and despite not being signed or deployed as an out-and-out striker, the Egyptian has been hitting the target more regularly than Sergio Aguero or Alexandre Lacazette. Just one behind Kane at 17 goals, Salah is set to give the Tottenham star a run for his money.