With a half-season almost completely under the proverbial belt of football in the English Premier League, we took a look at the season thus far and throw up some considerations towards the title race and the ever intense battle to finish in the four spots on the Champions League podium within England’s leading football competition. 

Odds of Interest (as of 27 December 2018)

  To Win Title To Finish Top 4
Arsenal 139.00 1.30
Chelsea 104.00 0.35
Liverpool 1.05 No odds offered
Manchester City 0.85 No odds offered
Manchester United 609.00 5.00
Tottenham 15.25 0.20
 

Previous League Leading Highest Mid-Season Points

  Team (Year) – Won Title?
55 Points Manchester City (2017/18) – Yes
52 Points Chelsea (2005/06) – Yes
51 Points* Liverpool (2018/19) – ?
49 Points Chelsea (2016/17) – Yes
47 Points Manchester United (2006/07) – Yes
46 Points Manchester United (2003/04) – No

Chelsea (2004/05) – Yes

Manchester United (2012/13) – Yes

Chelsea (2014/15) – Yes

45 Points Manchester United (2007/08) – Yes

Manchester City (2011/12) – Yes

 

Please note betting odds quoted are correct at time of publication and are subject to change. View the latest EPL Betting Odds

Fact of Interest:

  1. Since the 2001/02 season, the team on top of the EPL table at the halfway stage was crowned champion on 12 out of 17 occasions. The current streak for this statistic sits at two seasons in a row, with the last side to break this trend being Leicester City in 2015/16, who ended champion that season after Arsenal enjoyed a mid-season lead. Leicester City were top of the table at Christmas, however.
  2. Liverpool have been top at Christmas on 2 prior occasions – 2008/09 and 2013/14. They ended in second place by the end of the season in both seasons, the only team to do in the last 10 seasons.
  3. For teams in 2nd, 3rd and 4th at the halfway point, the consistency of keeping the same position drops off. In the last 10 seasons (since 2008/09), 50% of teams in 2nd place, 30% of teams in 3rd place and only one of the teams in 4th place held the same position in the table from mid-season to May.
  4. The top 2 teams at Christmas have NEVER failed to finish in the Top 4 by season end since England starting receiving 4 spots for Champions League football (since 2001/02).
  5. For teams in 3rd at the halfway point, 82% of those teams were present in the top 4 by season end, including where they had shifted to a higher or lower position within the top 4.
  6. For teams in 4th at the halfway point, 41% of those teams were present in the top 4 by season end, including there they had shifted to a higher position within the top 4.
  7. Arsenal’s Invincibles, the only side to have finished a Premier League campaign unbeaten, had accumulated 45 points after 19 matches in 2003/04, but were still 1 point behind Manchester United at that point of the season.

Are Liverpool flattering to deceive again?

Jurgen Klopp’s side has been here before, albeit with two previous managers – Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers in equally compelling title challenging situations. 2008/09’s side ran out of necessary killer instinct with too many draws keeping them chasing a far more clinical Manchester United, while 2013/14’s side had the title in their grasp until a reckless display at home to Chelsea gifted the title to the Citizens. The mood around the Reds is substantially different at the moment, given a number of key factors.

  • They’re hard to beat. Liverpool haven’t lost a league game yet, and haven’t lost at Anfield since last season, and even if they started doing so, it’s unlikely unless there’s a systemic collapse that they’ll capitulate extensively to becoming uncompetitive. Their record of only 7 goals conceded as the league leader at the halfway stage beats the previous best defence set by Chelsea at the same stage of 8 goals conceded in 2004/05’s midway point. No team has managed to score more than one goal in a league game against them, and their improvements in defensive personnel, especially keeper Alisson and centre back Virgil Van Dijk have cemented themselves amongst the best in the world in their positions.
  • They have goals. Liverpool have only failed to win 3 league games, all against the industriously better sides in the league (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal). Only one side – Man City – has prevented Liverpool from scoring in a league game. Everyone else, without exception, has tasted defeat by at least one goal, with the Reds finding a way to score from somewhere, whether it’s their perennial superstar Mohamed Salah, or the superb squad option of Xherdan Shaqiri off the bench, amongst others.
  • They travel really well. Liverpool’s away record is currently only bettered by Spurs in total points (27 from 11 vs 26 from 10), and their points per away game of 2,6 is the best in the league, making them awful to play against both home and away.

The issue as always with these aspects is sustainability; and while Liverpool have a solid squad, with some questionable performances implying there is still runway to improve even further, the concerns remain, and validly so, that injuries, fatigue and fixture congestion will test the limits of both the squad and its leaders in the coming months. Their start is impressive, but Manchester City are hardly far behind, and the Citizens’ much deeper squad, title experience, and better record in matches against other members of the big 6 clubs in the EPL may well stand in their favour as the reasons why Guardiola’s side are just better equipped to deal with the challenges yet to come in the business end of the season.

London Bridge is falling fourth

Meanwhile, in London, the battle for 4th seems a more likely issue to address rather than the title. Spurs have once again punched above their weight, but the gap to Liverpool and Man City over the course of the season seems a bridge too far for Pochettino’s team to address especially given their own challenges with squad limits. It’s unlikely they’ll drop off extensively, making them a comfortable meat in a sandwich as an outside title challenger with a fairly definitive top 4 slot.

That leaves Chelsea and Arsenal to navigate the final spot, and the race is especially intriguing. After a promising start, Maurizio Sarri’s team have been victims of their own inconsistency. Their superb home win over defending champion Man City did little to add colour off the grey from their disappointing defeat away to Spurs and shock loss to spirited Wolves. Their recent defeat to Leicester City only further exacerbated this. The squad challenges are fairly obvious; beyond Eden Hazard, no other stars have maintained the required executional consistency, and their new signings (especially in midfield) have now found their form flatlining, making it more difficult to believe they’ll take a commanding position in the race for 4th, let alone 3rd. Goals remain a challenge, especially with the only recognized strikers Morata and Giroud combining for a mere 6 goals in their combined 29 appearances. This however, feels broadly temporary, and even with these challenges in form, the Blues aren’t likely to stay in a poor patch of form for too long.

Arsenal, meanwhile, appear a far more settled and confident side, who appear to be making up for an arguably weaker and less experienced squad with a far more defined and sustainable tactical ideology, supported by the goalscoring prowess of Aubameyang and Lacazette. The defensive frailties are there for all to see, but they’ve managed to find a solid path from which to compensate for that with goals. Only two sides have scored more than two goals at the Emirates, with one of them being Man City on opening day, and the other being Spurs in a spectacular North London derby which Arsenal rallied to win 4-2. Away from home, Arsenal are yet to fail to score at least 2 goals in any game, which has helped them to accumulate points while conceding at least 2 goals in 5 of those away games already.

It may come early in the calendar relatively speaking, but the six-pointer between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates on the 19th January 2019 already seems to have an added significance (and advantage to Arsenal) in this particular race. Probably Arsenal’s chief challenges are their defensive issues long term and their other travels – they are yet to visit Man City, Spurs and intriguingly Wolves (the last of whom has already taken points off Man City and Chelsea at home). Their ability to handle those fixtures in particular could prove the deciding factor in Arsenal being present to continue the challenge to Chelsea once the Blues inevitably improve from their current slump.

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