With Matchweek 27 having just wrapped up, and Matchweek 28 on the horizon, the Barclays Premier League is still one of the most tightly contested leagues in Europe. With only 4 points between 1st and 4th and 7 points separating 10th through 18th, there is still room for some shocking twists and turns. As of right now, there are only 2 teams whose position on the table probably will not change before the end of the season, those teams being Newcastle and Southampton; everyone else is either fighting for European competition or doing everything they can to stay out of the Bottom 3.
This past week’s results feature no major surprises away from Norwich’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham. Coming off a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Dnipro in the Europa League 3 days earlier, Tim Sherwood and his Spurs squad were hoping to regain lost momentum, while in the other dugout, Chris Hughton was facing a situation straight from the WWE: win or you’re fired. A fantastic team performance coupled with a wonderful curling strike from Robert Snodgrass kept Hughton in the job and literally brought tears to the eyes of Canaries chief executive David McNally.
Now, let’s take a look at my current top 10 Premier League teams. (Note: These rankings are based strictly on EPL performance. European and cup competitions are not taken into account.)
10. Norwich City
Although their victory against Tottenham was their first in 4 matches and only their 7th all season, Norwich have vaulted themselves into the Top 10. Nevertheless, the Canaries and manager Chris Hughton still have some work to do to ensure safety and regain the confidence of their board. If they can perform as a team like they did this week and two weeks ago against Manchester City, a team which had dropped 7 goals on them earlier in the season, safety may not be as far away as it seems. Norwich travel to rivals Aston Villa this week, hoping to improve upon a less than stellar away form which has plagued them all season.
The Saints started the year with only 1 loss in their first 11 games and led many to believe that Mauricio Pochettino’s men may challenge for a European spot. As the season progressed, though, it became apparent that Southampton just did not have what it took to be major contenders. Only 5 points from 9 games between November 23rd and New Years saw them drop from 3rd to where they are now.
As mentioned earlier, Southampton are a floater team who don’t have much to play for; they are 15 points clear of relegation and 11 away from a European spot, which, at this point, does not seem very attainable. Still, the Saints are in-form, barring their 3-1 loss to the even more in-form West Ham on Saturday. They will hope this run continues, as they travel to Liverpool on Saturday.
Like Southampton, Everton began the year on fire, losing only one game before Christmas. But, also like Southampton, Everton have seen their form drop since then, winning only 2 games in the 7 they have had in 2014. Everton still have a lot to play for, though, and are only 5 points out of the Europa League spot currently held by Tottenham.
With a game in hand on Manchester United, who they are level on points with, this goal is certainly not out of reach, and their schedule for the remainder of the season is rather favorable; their only serious challenges will come from Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs. West Ham is on the schedule for Saturday, and with the form they are in, Everton need not be lackadaisical or they risk dropping valuable points.
7. Manchester United
By far the biggest disappointment in the Premier League this season, Man U are far from the English powerhouse they have been in years past. While some may say that this is just growing pains for the now Fergie-less club, there are no excuses for how poor the Red Devils have been this season. It’s not like they lost any major talent during the summer- the team is basically unchanged from last year’s title winning squad.
Only 2 wins against the current top half of the table is certainly not what anyone, especially new boy David Moyes, would have wanted or expected to see from them this season. The addition of Juan Mata has certainly added a bit of flair to the side, and since his signing, they have looked better, but there is still a lot of work to do. United earned a valuable 3 points against Crystal Palace last weekend, and, with this weekend off, now have valuable time to reflect and figure out what they want to get out of this season.
Since their 5-0 loss to Liverpool and the subsequent sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs have played fantastic football, with only 2 losses since then. Clearly, Tim Sherwood has done something significant to inspire his side. His newfound trust in previously out of favor striker Emmanuel Adebayor has given them some needed dimension up front, as Roberto Soldado has not performed up to his expected standards this season.
Their loss to Norwich was the first significant blip since Sherwood took over. In fairness to them, Norwich put on their best performance of the season, and, while Tottenham weren’t at their best, it is safe to say that they were beaten fair and square. They will look to get back on track on Sunday when they face Cardiff at White Hart Lane.
5. West Ham
Who lit the fire under West Ham’s butt? With 4 wins in a row and only 2 losses since the year began, West Ham have been far and away the most impressive team in the BPL since the second half of the season began.
Big Sam Allardyce has gone from being on the brink of losing his job to one of the most praised managers in England. In late January, Big Sam signed both Antonio Nocerino and Pablo Armero on loan until the end of the season, hoping these two Serie A All-Stars would lead them out of the hole they had dug themselves into. Apparently their presence in training was all they required; Nocerino has appeared only four times, all as a sub, and Armero is yet to appear at all. Maybe they will work their way into the first team on Saturday against Everton and lead their new squad to yet another victory.
Opening the season with a 3-1 loss to Aston Villa was not what Gunners fans wanted to see to start the year. Not losing another game until November 10 was more like it, and Arsenal have proven themselves to be title contenders in the Premier League this year.
The key to their form this year has been their ability to pass. As was seen in Tomas Rosicky’s goal against Sunderland last weekend and Jack Wilshere’s wonder goal earlier in the year, Arsenal have adopted a style similar to tiki-taka which allows them to open up defenses and make one-touch passes into open space. A 57% average possession rate and a 86% pass success rate this season have led Arsenal into the top 3 and given them a chance to obtain silverware for the first time since 2005.
A win on Saturday at Stoke coupled with a Chelsea draw or loss, which is highly unlikely given that they are playing Fulham, would put the Gunners back at the top of the league.
3. Manchester City
If City have had one Achilles heel all season it has been their performance against teams in the bottom half of the table. 11 points dropped compared to 7 against top half opposition, 6 of which came from losses to Chelsea, is the main reason as to why they aren’t top of the league currently. City cannot afford to take their foot off the gas against bottom half opponents if they want to have any chance of winning the league.
One could argue that they need to go undefeated the rest of the year if they are to win the league, so any more slip-ups could mean no title for City. Luckily, both their Champions League and Capital One Cup runs are about to come to an end, so they will have plenty of time to focus on earning points and getting to the top of the table.
Chelsea are top of the league, but only by a slim margin. Currently on a 12-game unbeaten run, the Blues come into this weekend with the goal of holding on to 1st place in the BPL. This should be relatively easy seeing as they are playing last-place Fulham, but they could be in for a surprise.
Coming off a well needed draw against West Brom last week, Fulham are looking to impress under yet another new boss, this time former Schalke and, most recently, Wolfsburg manager Felix Magath. Known for his dictatorial training regimen, Magath will certainly accept nothing but the best from his players, and will view this match as a possible turning point in their season. Even just a draw would probably make him happy, so Chelsea need to be wary of a fight and spirit which hasn’t been seen from Fulham as of yet.
Liverpool have only been shut out once all season, and that was against Southampton in September. This Saturday, they have a chance for revenge, and this time they have Luis Suarez.
The best player in Europe, in my opinion, Suarez has ripped defenses to shreds since returning from suspension in late September. Southampton have defender Dejan Lovren returning to the lineup, but that will likely not be enough to keep Suarez off the scoresheet. The Saints defense looked shaky against West Ham this past week, something which Suarez and his strike partner Daniel Sturridge will certainly look to exploit this week. If they do, look for Liverpool to remain to of this list come next week.