State of the League: Transfers are sparse and standings are shuffled

It seems like just a few weeks ago we had a discussion about the state of this league. Amidst Jurgen Klopp celebration antics, disappointing results from City, a train wreck with Jose Mourinho’s camp, and a lackluster January transfer window, the Premier League has found its peace: chaos.

Aymeric Laporte put City ahead of Everton with his fourth goal in the lone midweek fixture. (Credit: Getty Images)

At the beginning of January, we knew for certain that there was a lot of race left to be run. As some teams were flying high, the Manchester United’s and Southampton’s were bracing for impact.

Ralph Hasenhüttl and Ole Gunnar Solskjær have done rescue jobs for the ages in those situations.

Spurs, Arsenal, and Chelsea were gliding through no man’s land, bouncing off poor and superb results as the matches passed.

January Transfer Window

January came and went and the window was less than memorable. Gonzalo Higuain to Chelsea and Denis Suarez to Arsenal were the most high profile moves, which was debatable. If the year was 2016, it would be a pretty impressive flex of cash by two impressive sides, but it’s hard to see them being any more than role players at this point. However, the American revolution continues in England. Earlier last month, we wrote about Christian Pulisic’s record transfer into the Premier League. In a closely related context, Miguel Almiron joined Newcastle and became the most expensive MLS player exported out of the league, at approximately $25 million dollars.

I didn’t expect much to come out of this transfer period. You probably didn’t either, unless your club is in a relegation battle. If that’s the case, you’re disappointed. Liverpool, the Manchester duo, and Spurs all felt the same way, in terms of expectations. None of their squads were deepened in the slightest and now Tottenham have gone an entire calendar year since they last acquired a player. Manchester United are likely the most deserving of this stale period. With the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, it is like they have an entire new squad of world class players. The catch with that is they had the world class talent all over the pitch, but Ole Gunnar’s revival of the likes of Paul Pogba has made a completely new, energized team. Liverpool and City are interesting decisions. Liverpool is probably a simple case of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, although recent form would lead you to believe that maybe a singular splurge to sure up the midfield or back line would be beneficial. Manchester City, however, have the talent to win the Premier League as is, but that was not necessarily reflected in the first half of the year. Could it be that City were ready to pull the trigger and spend some cash before a recent turn in form? I would assume this was the case. Spurs. Oh Spurs, Spurs, Spurs. It sometimes seems that they are putting walls between themselves and success, just to receive recognition for overcoming them. With an injury ridden squad that already lacked depth, Spurs have been able to take hits in the league without absolute turmoil resulting. However, this lack of action has more consequences, I believe. Without backing the manager financially, or giving the supporters a bone to mask the problem that is their new stadium, a gap between the board and everyone else grows.

Title Race

So, where are we left at the top?

In the most realistic sense, it is a two team race. Maybe two and a half if we’re going to be generous.

As it stands at the moment, Manchester City are top of the league. One must put an asterisk by that point, however, as they lead only by goal differential and have a game in hand.

It is unfortunate that we do not get to see the six-point match between these two teams closer to the end. In terms of recent form, there is no debate. Since their matchup on January 3rd, City have captured 15 out of 15 possible points. They’ve only conceded twice and have scored 13, against opponents with an average standing of 11.4 in the league. Liverpool have been considerably less flawless. Out of a possible 12 points, they’ve secured eight. That’s scoring seven goals in four games, while conceding five. The average standing of their opponents has been 12.5.

Anyone that has been watching the past month can tell that this isn’t either team at it’s best. City have been playing maybe the most efficient out of the two this year, but not necessarily as pristine as possible. Liverpool have looked sluggish. This is almost definitely mental. The buzz surrounding their clash was built up as a heavyweight title bout. Losing that was not a nail in the coffin by any means, but it was demoralizing. The immediate reaction seems to be as expected, a vibrant City and lackluster Liverpool.

Moving forward, what is there to expect? Both teams are still alive in the Champions League. Ideally, both teams would expect to defeat their German opponents in the Round of 16, but Liverpool will probably have the more difficult task with Bayern. Pep Gaurdiola’s bunch face up to Schalke, which they will be decently favored, but also have a Cup final against Chelsea at the end of the match. They’re also still in contention for the FA Cup, which is more of a scheduling conflict than anything, at this point. In the league, City have only four more opponents in the top half of the league, as the standings are at the moment. Liverpool have six of these opponents still to face. If you’re seeking something the split the two, their upcoming fixtures are no the place to look.

What is? We’ll get back to it.

Predictions

RELEGATION BATTLE

18. Cardiff City — This one is the toughest to call on this end of the table. From a tactical and emotional aspect. The apparent loss of Emiliano Sala and his pilot is something that puts soccer at the back of our minds, while we hope the game is enough to bring healing at desperate times. With those sentiments in mind, it is tough to imagine Cardiff could revive this year. Sean Dyche (Burnley) and earlier mentioned Ralph Hasenhüttl (Southampton) have worked their squads into fairly decent form as of late, they should be safe.

19. Fulham — We all missed Fulham. They apparently missed the Championship more. Things were looking up in August when they spent upwards of $100 million in hopes of flourishing. Unfortunately, they have been unable to finish big games, some against impressive opponents and that is not going to cut it.

20. Huddersfield — This year has been calamitous. David Wagner’s ability to keep his job through January is one of the accomplishments of the year in soccer. He took the club through the ranks, but ownership certainly appeared to peak at arrival and maintaining a year in the league, because after this season, their time is done.

TOP 4

4. Manchester United — If this season ran through June, United are probably higher. It is remarkable what Solskjær has done and will continue to do. It probably won’t be as flawless as it has been, but I believe Pogba, Martial, Rashford, and company can continue to soar and having the world’s best keeper doesn’t hurt. I rate the Red Devils to continue on to the UCL quarterfinals and their manager search to go no further than the man on the touchline now.

3. Spurs — We are talking margins separating one, two, and three. Yet again, I think Spurs will celebrate mediocrity. It probably is worth some applause if they can overcome the woes of stadium transitions (or lack there of) , injuries, their manager being given away by the media, and no transactions. However, all of those reasons are enough to stumble the momentum and will keep them from executing in the clutch.

2. Liverpool — If I had more time, I would find the longest time spent at the top of the table without actually winning. Liverpool have to be in contention. As a numbers person, you will have to agree. If you’re an eye-test person, similar results will follow, as well. Not being clinical in a title race isn’t too far fetched in the minds of the Kop and their competition has been there more than they have. All of that negativity being said, if you’re in a position to compete as they are, you have proven to be capable of winning this title. Just off an educated guess, I would give it to someone else.

1. Manchester City — “Back to back like I’m on the cover of lethal weapon, back to back like I’m City ’18, ’19”, Drake, probably. Though in a slightly less convincing fashion than last year, City seem keen to win this one. It might even be more satisfying than past trophies. Aguero, Fernandinho, Otamendi, de Bruyne, Ederson, the list goes on. They’re not the best in the world at their positions, but my heavens, they are really great together. The team is on a roll and if history repeats itself, they do not end lightly.

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Author: Will Copeland

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