By Oliver Scott
In what has proven to be another exhilarating season in England’s top tier, the 2018/19 edition of the Barclays Premier League has given football fans a huge reason to look forward to the new year.
At the top of the table, Liverpool lead the way by four points (at the time of writing), following their 2-1 defeat to Manchester City, the first of their season.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are still very much in the driving seat for the title, with only one loss and fifty-four points, giving them their best chance at ending the twenty-nine-year long title drought on Merseyside.
The Reds have played scintillating football from back to front, conceding just ten goals and scoring forty-nine in twenty-one games. This was exemplified in their 5-1 drubbing of Arsenal, where the deadly trio of Salah, Mane and Firmino ran rings round Unai Emery’s team.
They have scored three or more goals in six of their last nine games; yet the main difference this season has been the defence.
Alisson has proved to be worth every penny of his £66m fee, whilst Virgil van Dijk’s performances have led him to be hailed as the best player in the world by pundit Chris Sutton, high praise indeed.
Furthermore, before his injury earlier in December, Joe Gomez proved to be another fantastic asset to Klopp’s side with the former Charlton man really stepping up this season.
This is a new-look Liverpool; one which teams don’t just fear due to their deadly attack, but now also because of their rock solid defence.
Yet in an ever-unpredictable league, it would be naïve to assume it is just a one-horse title race already.
Despite their 3-1 loss to Wolves, Tottenham still have very outside chances of a title shot, but they will need a near perfect 2019 in order to do so.
Pochettino deserves credit for not making a single summer signing yet still improving his team, meaning he has caught the eye of Manchester United and Real Madrid alike.
The main challenge to Klopp’s men, however, comes from Guardiola’s Manchester City. Although recent shock losses to both Crystal Palace and Leicester have derailed their title hopes slightly, many still think the current champions have the ability to catch up.
They have the experience of the pressures of a title run-in, something which Klopp’s men do not, which could prove invaluable, as we saw in the 2013/14 season.
Their performances against West Ham at the Olympic Stadium, dispatching of United at the Etihad in November, and routs of Southampton, Burnley and Huddersfield prove City are serious title contenders and that perhaps Liverpool’s seven-point lead is rather flattering.
The race for the top four seems to be fought out by the remainder of the ‘big six’, Tottenham look likely to secure their spot with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United fighting it out for that elusive fourth place.
United have had an unexpected new lease of life under legendary player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, particularly talisman Paul Pogba, who had seven goals and assists to his name in his first three games after Mourinho’s departure.
The form of their £89m-man will be central to their Champions League hopes which is the minimum that Red Devils fans expect.
Arsenal have suffered a poor run of form since their 4-2 victory over their north London rivals in early December.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton have since ended their twenty-two-game unbeaten run which has been followed by a loss to Spurs in the cup, a disappointing draw to Brighton, and then a heavy 5-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
Emery will undoubtedly look to mould the team more into his own over the January transfer window as he looks to recapture some of the form his team had from September to November.
Wolves sit highly at number nine in the table aftershock wins against Chelsea and Tottenham in December, despite only two wins in their last five.
These came after a period of six losses and a draw from October through to the end of November resulting in many fans calling for Nuno Espirito Santo to be sacked.
Yet the ficklest fans in the country are once again singing his praises as they go into the New Year showing their strengths as a team.
Seventh to fourteenth are only separated by five points, so the race for the rest of the best is the most competitive it has been for years.
The remaining teams are left fighting against relegation to England’s Second Tier with what is slowly emerging as the lowest quality but most entertaining relegation fight of recent seasons.
Every team from fourteenth and below have less than a point per game which is quite staggering and shows the gulf between teams at the top and bottom of the table is re-emerging, after having seemingly lessened in recent years.
This is surprising given the new TV deal gives teams tens of millions to spend on players as seen with Fulham’s £27m purchase of Jean Michael Seri, Southampton spending £22.5m on Jannick Vestergaard and Cardiff spending £11m each on championship stalwarts Bobby Reid and Jacob Murphy.
The trend since Leicester’s triumph in 2015/16 and the riches given by the new TV deal the season before, seemed to suggest the playing field across the league was becoming more even, something which has been shattered so far this season.
It’s looking as if thirty-five or maybe even thirty-four points would see a team comfortably stay up, an unprecedently low figure.
Huddersfield are marooned at the bottom of the table with just ten points from twenty-one games, as it looks ever more likely that David Wagner’s fairy-tale is soon to be over.
Yet just five points separate Fulham in 19th and Newcastle in 15th with both of them, Cardiff, Southampton and Burnley all fighting it out.
The January transfer window will be just as important for those at the bottom as it is for those at the top. With the prestige and financial riches of playing in the Premier League at stake, all seven clubs in the dogfight will see the upcoming transfer market as nothing other than critical. Overall, the Premier League is once again proving why it is the best league in the world.
The race for the title is still unpredictable, there are then four teams then fighting for the remaining spots in the top four, seven teams all still in contention of finishing in seventh place and the remaining seven battling it out against relegation.
The league is so tightly contested across the entirety of the table and if the second half of the season is as good as the first, then football fans are in for a treat.
Photograph: Milos Randovanovic via Flickr