EPL 2016/17: Story of the season thus far
Each Premier League season brings excitement, joy, despair, frustration and drama. The 2016-17 season has brought all of that and there are still four months left.
Chelsea are cruising towards the title, yet the race for Champions League places promises to be an exciting one. Second-placed Tottenham and sixth-placed Manchester United are separated by just five points.
At the bottom, Hull City, Swansea City and Sunderland looked set for the Championship a month ago, but they have revived their fortunes somewhat to give fire to the relegation battle. Whatever the outcome, the season’s final few months are bound to keep us enthralled till the last week.
The team of the season thus far has undoubtedly been Chelsea. They started well, winning their first three games. But successive defeats to fellow title hopefuls Liverpool and Arsenal brought back the uncertainty which hovered around Stamford Bridge during last season’s horrendous title defence.
Manager Antonio Conte decided to change the formation to his favoured 3-4-3 which turned the Blues’ fortunes quite radically. Led by Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, they embarked on a 13-game winning streak, equalling the record set by Arsenal more than a decade ago. David Luiz, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have excelled in the new system, reigniting their Chelsea careers in the process.
Spurs keep title hopes alive
Tottenham ended their streak in January courtesy of a 2-0 win. But a valuable point at Anfield and a solid 3-1 victory over Arsenal have cemented Chelsea as the title favourites.
Chelsea have a nine point cushion over nearest rivals Tottenham, but behind them the race is tight. Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs all have their eyes on the Champions League places.
Second-placed Tottenham look the strongest among the chasing pack. Spurs were unbeaten for the first 12 games, but half of them were draws, which hurt their league position. Since then, their attack flourished, led by the trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been unbeaten at home, where they have defeated Chelsea and Manchester City.
Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United fight it out for European spots
Manchester City are currently third. Pep Guardiola’s tenure at the Etihad got off to a flying start, as his side won their first 10 games in all competitions. But inconsistent performances since then have cost them. Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho have received multiple suspensions, and their defence has not looked solid at all.
Guardiola has learned the hard way that the Premier League is no La Liga, but there is still time for City to showcase his philosophy on the pitch. New signing Gabriel Jesus will definitely help the cause.
Arsenal are currently stationed in their familiar fourth place. The Gunners endured a tough beginning to February as they lost in succession to lowly Watford and high-flying Chelsea. They are 12 points off the leaders, and yet again it looks like they will have to be content with a top four spot. Arsene Wenger’s men have looked superb at times this season, mainly due to star forward Alexis Sanchez. But some poor performances and injuries have deflated their season.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are outside the top four, mainly due to their dismal 2017. They have not won any league game this season, and this has dampened the expectations after a great start to proceedings.
Liverpool’s attack was scintillating in the early months, and this gave hope to the Anfield faithful. However, poor showings against the lower teams have cost them. They have dropped 18 points to teams outside the top six, more than any other side among the said six teams.
Manchester United have followed the opposite path in their season. They were dismal in the early months, as high profile names like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to have an impact. But Jose Mourinho’s side have turned it around, as they are now in midst of a 15 game unbeaten streak in the league. Though their league position hasn’t changed, they are now just two points off fourth-placed Arsenal.
Mid table battle
Everton and West Bromwich Albion are placed just below these six sides. They have dominated against the lower clubs, though the upper residents have proved to be tougher opposition. Everton main man Romelu Lukaku has been terrific, leading the league’s goalscoring charts with 16 goals.
West Ham were struggling to find their feet early on after their brilliant showing last season. But they have remedied their form since and now are a respectable ninth in the table.
The likes of Burnley, Watford, Stoke City, Bournemouth and Southampton are not in direct danger of relegation but are looking over their shoulders nervously. Burnley’s home record has been terrific, but their dismal away form has kept them in 12th place. Bournemouth and Watford had great starts, but both have faded into the oblivion that is the mid-table positions.
The bottom six are separated by just two points, which paves the way for an exciting relegation dogfight. Middlesbrough have the worst attack in the division, but their stingy defence has kept them afloat.
Leicester City, the current champions, have had a poor season, and are positioned below them. The Foxes have struggled to replicate last season’s heroics on both sides of the pitch. Some of it can be attributed to midfield anchor N’Golo Kante’s departure to Chelsea, but the huge turn in their fortunes is inexcusable.
Despite acquiring new strikers to complement Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, they have failed to make their mark this season. Perhaps lightning really doesn’t strike twice.
Hull City, Crystal Palace and Swansea City have all sacked their managers in order to ensure their survival. Meanwhile, Sunderland’s David Moyes has been trusted by the club to carry on the tradition of late comebacks to avoid the drop. In a season supposed to have the most exciting title race of all time, the race at the bottom seems to have all the excitement as of now.
Swansea 5-4 Palace and Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool were last-minute thrillers. Chelsea 5-0 Everton and Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea were games of complete domination by one team, while Everton 6-3 Bournemouth and Liverpool 6-1 Watford were typical goalfests.
Memorable individual performances
N’Golo Kante popped up everywhere at Anfield to register 14 tackles. Keepers Tom Heaton and Eldin Jakupovic were brilliant to snatch 0-0 draws at Old Trafford. Eden Hazard resembled Messi against Everton, Salomon Rondon scored a hat-trick of headers, Romelu Lukaku bagged four goals in a game and Jamie Vardy’s hat-trick humbled Guardiola’s City. Andre Gray, Alexis Sanchez and Harry Kane also scored hat tricks.
Eden Hazard, Sadio Mane and Dimitri Payet each scored mazy solo goals. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored brilliant scorpion kicks within days of each other. Long-range goals from Jordan Henderson and Paul Pogba were ones to remember. Sensational free kicks from David Luiz and Philippe Coutinho were eye-catching as well.