Manchester City may have faltered of late but once Yaya Toure returns from the Africa Cup of Nations they will be back to full-strength. It’s difficult to argue against City winning their first title since 1967-68 because of the strength of the team’s spine.
The team’s fulcrum of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero is unmatched in the Premier League and allows whichever other squad players are chosen alongside them the freedom to play. It is also salient that City have now had their inevitable bad spell (two league defeats during January) which should allow them to recapture their early season form for the run-in.
Intiguingly Carlos Tevez remains in their 25-man Premier League squad and one can not totally discount him playing a part during the remainder of the season.
Manchester United have had a strangely disappointing season with the lowpoint definitely their 6-1 home defeat to City in October, yet at the time of writing they are level with City on points at the top of the table. Their advantage over their city rivals is that they have done it all before, most notably last season when a strangely lacklustre United side still succeeded in winning a record 19th League title.
Yet significant doubts remain over the goalkeeping position which is sure to cost them several more vital points this season whilst their midfield continues to lack a creative spark, emphasised by Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to coax 37-year-old Paul Scholes out of retirement.
With new signings like Ashley Young fading after a bright start to the season, much will depend upon the likes of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck grabbing enough goals to retain their title.
Tottenham Hotpsur are in with their best chance of winning the title for fifty years. Without doubt the most exciting team in the division, Harry Redknapp has built a genuinely thrilling side with pace and flair all over the pitch. On their day Spurs can beat anybody and since the arrivals of Friedel and Parker no longer display either the goalkeeping brainstorms of a Heurelho Gomes or the soft underbelly to their midfield that a Spurs team has traditionally retained amidst the flair of a Hoddle, Gascoigne or Modric.
Yet doubts persist as to the overall strength of their squad; a couple of injuries to key players like Bale or Lennon would affect the whole pattern of the team in a way that other contenders more used to squad rotation wouldn’t be. Basically Spurs are a team rather than a squad; possibly the best team but not the best squad.
Liverpool have had a strange season with King Kenny’s expensive new signings flattering to deceive yet they still remain in contention for a Champions League spot. A failure to win at home has affected his team in a similar manner to Rafa Benitez’s 2008-09 team failing to overhaul Manchester United by drawing too many away games.
Although Liverpool are unbeaten at home in the League, they have drawn seven out of eleven matches, a staggering fourteen dropped points. Whilst their defence has shored up under Dalglish they have found it difficult to score freely and Luis Suarez’s enforced eight-match suspension has affected them recently.
Despite this there remain grounds for optimism; by creating a strong defensive foundation for the side Dalglish has the freedom to tinker with its offensive aspect. Although the side remains a work in progress and is sure to be improved over the summer, with Steven Gerrard back from long-term injury and Suarez set to start against Tottenham on Monday evening for the first time since Boxing Day I’m going for the Reds to win the battle for fourth place.
Arsenal have been struggling to stay in contention at the top of the table and continue to drop too many points to be considered favourites for fourth spot. Damaged by the early season departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, manager Arsene Wenger has been under pressure and received criticism from fans like never before.
On their day (yesterday’s 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn, for instance) his side can still dazzle but the soft underbelly of the side has grown increasingly susceptible over the last few seasons. With Jack Wilshere likely to miss the entire season Wenger’s task to replace the creativity of Fabregas and Nasri was made even harder yet he continues to develop prospects like Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For that alone Gunners’ fans should respect the man even if they fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1997-98. And who knows, if they can win the competition this year finishing outside the top four won’t be such a disaster either.
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