The English Premier League Down the Stretch

At this point last season, reigning champion Manchester City sat atop the English Premier League 12 points above Manchester United, so viewers expected it to lift the trophy in May 2018, which it eventually did.

At this point last season, reigning champion Manchester City sat atop the English Premier League 12 points above Manchester United, so viewers expected it to lift the trophy in May 2018, which it eventually did. In contrast, despite being a heavy favorite prior, Manchester City is four points behind first-place Liverpool, making this season the most competitive it has been in recent years. Historically, the Premier League has been divided into three distinct tiers: the elite top six; the fun, but middle-of-the-pack squads; and the clubs fearing relegation to the second division, the English Football League Championship.

The league experienced a few surprises. Watford F.C., a typically unstable team that has recently flirted with relegation, has propelled to seventh. Behind it is the Wolverhampton Wanderers, who is experiencing unprecedented success for a recently-promoted team. However, fellow promotee Fulham F.C. has wasted new talent, sitting in 19th place. Sharing the three relegation places with Fulham are Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, with Newcastle United looming dangerously above them in 17th.

The top six places in the Premier League earn a place in a European continental tournament for the next season, either the Europa League (fifth and sixth places) or the more prestigious Champions League (first through fourth places). In recent seasons, those spots have been dominated by the current top six: Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal. With Liverpool and Manchester City battling for the title, competition for the next two Champions League places is tight, with only seven points separating the following four teams.

Manchester City’s attack boasts a league-best average of 2.7 goals per game this season while Liverpool has the stingiest defense in the league, conceding a goal only every other match on average. Personnel-wise, Tottenham remains unchanged from when it placed third last season. Chelsea, in fourth, had an impressive start but has recently fallen victim to erratic results under new manager Maurizio Sarri, famed for his possession-based style. Although Arsenal, currently in fifth, appears destined for another season in Europe’s second-tier competition, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals have covered up some of Arsenal’s defensive issues, allowing the team to hold out hope for success. Under interim manager and ex-player Ole Gunnar Solskjær, sixth-place Manchester United’s star midfielder Paul Pogba has been set free from previous management’s stifling defensive style, scoring and helping Manchester United win six straight Premier League matches in a previously unexpected run at the final Champions League place.

Looking ahead, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United, and Cardiff City will likely end up in the bottom three places, relegated to the Championship, with Fulham making a close escape. While Huddersfield has consistently been the league’s poorest team, Newcastle and Cardiff’s overly defensive mindset may prevent these teams from chasing after season-saving goals, not to mention their shared lack of midfield talent.

Finally, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City has suffered an inevitable rough patch this season with losses to Chelsea, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace in quick succession. Liverpool improved on all the weaknesses that prevented it from winning a trophy in previous seasons under manager Jürgen Klopp; however, its recent performance has deteriorated, while Manchester City seem as consistent and confident as it has been all season.With an unstoppable attack, and a truly dominant, beautiful, and efficient style, City will surely climb back up to first, securing a second straight title—a feat last accomplished by Manchester United 10 years ago.