Having seen out 2017, survived the Christmas demolition derbies and wandered into the January Sales, where does the English Premier League stand?
Manchester City are 15 points and several streets ahead of the chasing pack. Of their challengers, Machester United sit in second position with 47 points, while Tottenham in 5th have 44.
It’s obvious that Manchester City are walking away with the title, but it’s still a typically close fight for the runners-up positions.
The Premier B League
Arsenal, Burnley and Leicester currently occupy the no-man’s-land of 6th – 8th positions. In reality, Arsenal are the duffers of the leading pack, 5 points behind their London neighbours, while Burnley and Leicester are leaders of the Premier B league.
It’s what sits below 8th place that’s perhaps most interesting. If we exclude Swansea, who already seem to have booked their place in next year’s Championship, it’s very tight. The gap from West Brom, in 19th place with 19 points, to Everton in in 9th place with 27 points, is only 8 points.
There is a gap of only 6 points between Southampton, the first club above the relegation zone, and Everton in 9th. It’s incredibly tight down there.
As I write, the top story is about whether Alexis Sanchez will move to Manchester United for the extravagant wage packet, or bide his time and hold out for a place at Guardiola’s table. We expect the money to win, hands down.
Liverpool have shown with their stunning defeat of Manchester City that there is life after that little Brazilian chappie who left recently. It’s too late for this year, but with their recent purchase of a proper defender and the pending arrival of Keita from Leipzig, they are starting to take on the shape of champions.
Manchester United are still a work in progress, with Mourinho trying to pull the strings of a squad that doesn’t have the quality of Manchester City’s or the attacking ruthlessness of Liverpool. Still, the addition of Sanchez and a little less bad luck with injuries should see them scrape into second place in the Premier. But no silverware, not this year.
Since stuffing Real Madrid in the Champions League, Tottenham have faded. Instead of marvelling at Delle Alli’s skill and hoping thet Gareth Southgate will build England’s future around him, headlines about Harry Kane’s goals have filled the silence. One wonders what will happen if Real Madrid arrive in the summer with a £200 bid.
In Antonio Conte, Chelsea seem to have taken on a manager with all the people skills of Roberto Mancini, but with a much higher opinion of himself. Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, it was Conte’s treatment of Diego Costa that deprived the team of a predatory striker for the 2017-2018 season. He also seems to have repeated the trick with David Luiz, who seems to be waiting for a chance to move on to greener pastures. Still, with the likes of Hazard to pull wins out of the hat, and Kanté to cover the defence, it’s quite likely they’ll manage to secure entry into next year’s Champions League.
As for the last of our leading teams, Manchester City seem to have shedded their reliance on their man of glass, Vincent Kompany. They still need another decent defender, but most of their opponents are too busy dealing with City’s fearsome attack to work out how to beat their defence. With the confidence that comes from wins, and the improved skills that confidence brings out, they are only one or two players away from becoming Europe’s top team.
Champions League 2018
Looking around at the teams who line up in the knockout stages, you should be seeing Manchester City line up with Barcelona, PSG and Bayern Munich in the semi finals. Fate won’t allow that, of course, so there may be surprises. Of the English teams, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United look to be able to win their round of 16 ties and head to the quarter finals.
Tottenham have the advantage of facing Juventus at home in the second leg, but we think Juve will shade the tie. Chelsea, facing Barcelona, look to have very little chance of progressing. With Barca hitting form and Messi and Suarez scoring again, they look to have very little to fear against a stretched and pedestrian Chelsea team.
Going forward, the fate of the English teams depends on the luck of the draw. With the absence of Arsenal, Manchester City are fated to be drawn against Bayern Munich in the Quarter Finals, while Manchester United will draw PSG and Liverpool will get Barcelona. You just know it. But to win the Champions League, you have to beat the best.
A wish for 2018
I wish English clubs would operate a little more intelligently in the transfer market. Salaries paid are absurdly high and transfer fees paid are just plain stupid. When we’re talking about £50 million, £100 million and even £200 million for a man who can kick a ball accurately, and salaries of £250,000 or £400,000 a week quoted, the sport is heading for the edge of a very big cliff. It’s no good saying ‘that’s the going price’. It’s only the going price because you agree to pay it. What we’re seeing today simply isn’t sustainable.
I don’t know how much it costs to develop state of the art youth training centres and how much it would cost to give a chance to literally hundreds of teenage wannabe Premier League stars, but my guess is that the £140 million that Coutinho’s sale generated could provide the club with cheap homegrown talent for decades if invested in nurturing talent and not just buying it.