14 September, 2016 - 14:26

The Premier League title race: Will they? Won’t they?

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With four games of the Premier League season gone, we assess the three favourites who are currently leading the pack: champions Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. We look for reasons why we should expect them to win top honours this year and also reasons to be wary – starting with the Citizens…

Manchester City

Why they will win it

Pep Guardiola’s side have dropped just two points in their first four games. That draw came against Everton, when they had to play 44 minutes of that match with 10 men and still looked the better side.

When they had a man advantage themselves, they used it far better and dominated Liverpool with a 5-0 win. That match saw a successful partnership of Gabriel Jesus, one of the most talented young forwards in the world and Sergio Aguero, a proven goalscorer. The former was replaced by Leroy Sane, who bagged a 33-minute brace including a wonderful curling effort. His first goal involved a slick one-two with Bernard Mendy, who provided pace, power, skill and crossing ability down the left flank, the ex-Monaco left-back and Kyle Walker on the right stretching play to create space for more central magicians.

Kevin De Bruyne has been arguably the most creative technician in England since joining from Wolfsberg. The Belgian can thread balls through the eye of a needle, assisting the first two goals on Saturday while David Silva has provided similar qualities for many years. Starting both in the same team necessitates a more destructive midfielder behind them and Fernandinho fits that bill better than Yaya Toure did last season.

The whole team showed spirit at Bournemouth, keeping their nerve until the end to score a 97th minute winner. The mark of champions?

Why they won’t

The lack of attacking ambition from their opponents has meant they’ve been able to play every match so far on their own terms. However, previous champions have needed top level centre-backs who are capable of defending their box well when circumstances aren’t ideal. With Vincent Kompany out injured again, it can be questioned whether Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones will be good enough in that department. It is yet to be seen how Ederson Moraes recovers from his injury after a nasty collision with Sadio Mane, but the idea of Claudio Bravo potentially deputizing will not fill fans with too much confidence.

Verdict

They’ll almost certainly be the most entertaining side this year with so much attacking talent, but loyalty to one tactical approach could limit them when it comes to the crunch.

Manchester United

Why they will win it

Manchester United’s performances last season were not dissimilar to those of Chelsea in 13/14, in that they created chances but needed a beast of a striker to put them away.
Romelu Lukaku fits that bill better than any available front-man in world football. The Belgian has been ruthless in front of goal, starting the season with five in five games. Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks buoyed by his Europa League form last season, starting the campaign in creative mood with five assists already. Nemanja Matic adds steel to the midfield while Paul Pogba continues to excite and enthral, both midfielders playing so well that someone as good as Ander Herrera has struggled for starts.

United look like a side that can win games in any manner required. They can hold onto the ball to tire the opposition out for long periods, then when the chance comes, they can bulldozer their way through with pace and power. Oh, and Jose Mourinho has won the domestic title in each of his last five second seasons as a manager.

Why they won’t

Neither Eric Bailly nor fellow centre-back Phil Jones covered themselves in glory in the 2-2 draw at Stoke. The former remains inexperienced while the latter sometimes lacks the positional composure to induce confidence. Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling meanwhile face similar question marks and the absence of an obvious centre-back pairing could be problematic.

A lack of width on the left could also hinder United. With Luke Shaw continuing to suffer from injury problems, alternative options include Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, who are more conservative. That would not be a problem if either played behind a winger capable of stretching play on the outside, but only Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have played on the left so far and both want to cut inside to find goalscoring positions.

Verdict

Mourinho has addressed the main issues from last season and his side now look ready for any battle that comes their way. They are 11/4 to win top honours with Betway as of 12th September and we think they’ve got what it takes.

Chelsea

Why they will win it

Chelsea have won the Premier League title in two of the last three seasons: five members of their current squad had been influential behind both successes. Alvaro Morata has started in positive goalscoring form, netting three times in four league appearances. They have already beaten Tottenham, Everton and Leicester without starting arguably the best player in the Premier League, Eden Hazard, who featured from the bench on Saturday. Gary Cahill, an ever-present during their title win last season, was also absent, which indicates that there’s leadership in alternative places.

N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko run midfields with their sheer tenacity and dynamism, but they have a player who can control matches in a different way, Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard picks passes that only a select group of players in the world can, which is crucial to unlocking stubborn defences.

Why they won’t

Internal tensions between Antonio Conte and the board are apparent. There are question marks about the amount of power he has in transfer dealings and the general running of the club, when many fans feel his work last season deserves more trust.

Transfer business in the summer was left late and had the feel of sideways steps. Tiemoue Bakayoko and Morata are effectively replacements for Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa, the latter’s relationship with Conte looking irreparable.

Those sideways steps aren’t ideal, with the return of Champions League football. While last season’s title win was based on tactical consistency, Conte cannot continue to pick the same eleven players this time around.

Verdict

They haven’t regressed as a side since last season, but they’ve not improved either. With more games to contend with and Manchester clubs improving, staying at the same level might not be enough to retain their crown.

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Author: St. Anger

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