As we approach the festive period and the temperature begins to drop, the Premier League title race is beginning to heat up even at this relatively early stage.
Chelsea are already ahead of the pack with an impressive 10 wins from their first 13 games. The arrival of manager Antonio Conte in the summer brought the obvious questions of whether the former Italy manager could rally the Chelsea squad after a disastrous season last year.
He has certainly answered those questions with emphatic 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Manchester United and Premier League Champions, Leicester City respectively. The biggest change Conte has made since arriving at the club is giving his players the freedom to play and not stick rigidly to a system. This has brought out the very best in Chelsea’s key to success: Eden Hazard.
The Belgian winger has been in scintillating form this season, with seven goals and one assist to his name already and on his day, he is unplayable. Diego Costa is leading the line for Chelsea and leading the way for goals in the league, with 10 goals in 13 appearances – if things continue, he is well on his way to winning the golden boot and a potential fifth Premier League crown for Chelsea.
Sitting in second place – a point behind Chelsea – is Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who are the league’s leading scorers and have set the season alight with their open and expansive style of play. With players like Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, more often than not, you are going to be guaranteed goals.
However, scoring goals is not their problem – it’s keeping them out. Liverpool have already conceded 14 goals this season, the second-highest of any side in the top eight. As previous champions have proved, a resolute and solid defense is equally, if not more important than scoring goals.
The mentality that, ‘if they score four, we’ll score five’ will eventually come back to haunt the five-time European champions. If a strong centre-back is added in January, they will have a real chance of winning their first Premier League crown.
Level on points with Liverpool are many peoples’ favourites for the title this season: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Many considered the title to be won before a ball was kicked this season when City acquired the services of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach to oversee the pool of world-class talent in City’s ranks.
Over £150 million was spent in the summer to prepare for a gruelling league campaign and, with the depth of talent they have all over the park, it is very difficult to see past them winning the title. Another injury setback for captain Vincent Kompany will not help their situation but when you have Sergio Agüero in your team, you always have a chance.
Guardiola has successfully implemented his famous ‘Tiki-taka’ style of play (possession and quick, short passing) and it looks as though it can bring a third Premier League title in six years to the Etihad Stadium.
Lying two points further back are Arsenal, who have started the season strongly, substituting the tedious and slow passing style – now synonymous with The Gunners – for a faster and more direct style that has certainly paid off when called upon. Their defensive frailties have been filled by new signing Shkodran Mustafi, captain Laurent Koscielny and the experienced Petr Čech in goal.
German midfielder Mesut Özil has come into his own this season and with players like Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sánchez around him, Arsenal could be a force to be reckoned with in this title race.
There are cases to be made for Manchester United and Tottenham. After strong starts to the season, they have both faded badly, and form is everything when entering a Christmas period chocked full of fixtures.
It is difficult to envision a Premier League champion who is currently outside the top four – but then again, last season showed us that in football, anything can happen.
Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland