Top Four Challengers – Have they got what it takes?

top 5 dec 14

After a 2-0 win last night, Chelsea will have the honour of being top of the Premier League at Christmas. They lead Manchester City by three points, whilst Manchester United are in third, West Ham United fourth and Southampton fifth. But is that how it will stay until the end of the season? Can the surprise packages keep up their good form? And who could sneak in ahead of them?

Chelsea

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It’s been an outstanding campaign for Chelsea so far, despite a slight dip in form in recent weeks. They’ve only lost once in the Premier League, and lead the table by three points. Jose Mourinho made some superb signings in the summer, which have been key to their success, as Diego Costa is second in the goal-scoring charts and Cesc Fabregas has provided the most assists in the division. They are still in four different competitions this campaign, so there may be a small worry that an overload of fixtures may cause a decline, but such is squad depth at Stamford Bridge, it’s hard to see anyone else winning the title.

Star Player: Cesc Fabregas

Diego Costa may be grabbing the goals, but it’s hard to not make a case for Cesc Fabregas, who has had Arsene Wenger wishing he had chosen the option to re-sign him. The Spaniard is by far the best midfield general in the Premier League, and his partnership with Nemanja Matic in the holding role has made the Blues incredibly hard to break down. His 12 assists are the most in the league, and only one away from Steven Gerrard’s best of 13 from last season. Fabregas does score too, grabbing his third Blues goal last night against Stoke.

Prediction: 1st

Manchester City

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The current champions are catching Chelsea up in their attempt to retain the title, with a few emphatic wins of late. This has come without star striker Sergio Aguero, who had 14 goals to his name (the most in the league) before being forced off with an injury against Everton which has ruled him out until the new year. Last season’s star man Yaya Toure has begun to hit top form again though, and Manuel Pellegrini’s side are beginning to gain some consistency to their form that they lacked at the start of the season. They will run Chelsea close and are definite top four finishers, but it could all come down to their slow start to the campaign.

Star Man: Sergio Aguero

Who else but the influential Argentine talisman?He is perhaps the outstanding player in the Premier League, the one true world class talent following Luis Suarez’s departure from Liverpool for Barcelona.He has been the scorer of crucial goals as well, including the winner in the Manchester derby. He’s not suffered from a World Cup hangover and City will want him back fit as soon as possible.

Prediction: 2nd

Manchester United

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After a slow start to campaign that showed no signs of changes from their dismal 2013-14 season, Manchester United have reached third in the table after six wins on the bounce which ended at Aston Villa at the weekend. Louis van Gaal has made the squad his own with a few big money signings, and their attack is the most deadly in the division on paper, with the likes of Rooney, RVP and Falcao leading the line. Injuries have crippled their back line, but the positive results carry on arriving, and a 3-0 win over Liverpool a few weeks ago, told fans that the good days had returned.

Star Man: David De Gea

You look at United’s front line and imagine that one of the world class attackers would be stealing the show at Old Trafford, but it has been goalkeeper David De Gea who has been key to their upsurge in form. Once questioned on his ability, the Spaniard is now battling with Thibaut Courtois for the title of best goalkeeper in the league. The 24 year old has been in outstanding form behind a shaky and unsettled defence and has become a crucial figure for the Red Devils.

Prediction: 3rd

West Ham United

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The Hammers are dreaming of European qualification after a miraculous start to the campaign, which sees them sit in fourth going into Christmas. Sam Allardyce finally has consistent backing by the supporters, and summer signings in all areas of the pitch have meant West Ham are a force to reckoned with, with their number of options upfront very good, especially as Andy Carroll has returned from injury in recent weeks. Their next few matches see them come up against Chelsea and Arsenal, so where they lie in the table after that could well be a better representation of where they will finish.

Star Man: Diafra Sakho

There’s been no stand out player for the Hammers, and their surprising start has been more of a team effort, but if you had to pick out one, it would be top scorer Diafra Sakho. He has a had a big impact since arriving in the summer from Metz, and seven goals in seven games for a striker playing in the French Second Division last season says it all. The Senegalese international also picked up the Premier League Player of the Month award for October, and form that won him that will need to continue if West Ham are to stay challenging for Europe.

Prediction: 9th

Southampton

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The chairman, manager and five leading players all left but the club in the summer, and it looked like Southampton were staring relegation in the face. But new boss Ronald Koeman brought unknown stars like Dusan Tadic and Grazianno Pelle to the Premier League and made them the spearheads of his South Coast revolution. They were third in the division before four league defeats in a row which tested their top four credentials, and injuries have also caused them a few problems recently. After watching them myself on Saturday as they graced to a 3-0 win over Everton, I can confirm that the Saints are to be taken seriously, but you do question whether they can stay in contention right up until May? They’ve got the ability and potential, but will fitness and mental strength become a problem for a club who have never been in this situation before?

Star Man: Jose Fonte

Like Manchester United, Southampton owe a lot to their defence this season, despite a turbulent few weeks in which goals have been flying past them. Team captain Jose Fonte has been a rock in that back four which has kept seven clean sheets this season, and conceded just 13 goals, the joint least in the division with leaders Chelsea. Having been at St.Mary’s for four years, Fonte, as I witnessed, is a clear fans’ favourite, and it would be a great achievement for him to finish in the top four, having joined the Saints when they were in League One.

Prediction: 5th

Other Contenders

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Arsenal – The Gunners have finished fourth in the last two seasons, and with the quality and experience in their side, you have to take them as the favourites to finish there again, even as pressure on Arsene Wenger grown. 4th

Tottenham – Mauricio Pochettino’s side are level on points with their North London rivals, and would be a lot higher if they hadn’t dropped points against lower sides. The Europa League may turn out to be Spurs’ priority, but even then a top six finish is achievable. 7th

Everton – After a hugely successful campaign in 2013-14, Everton haven’t really got going so far this term. A Champions League spot is still there for the taking though if Roberto Martinez’s side can get some momentum – and Ross Barkley hits top form. 8th

Liverpool – It’s not been going well in the red half of Merseyside either. Brendan Rodgers is clearly missing the quality of Luis Suarez, whilst Daniel Sturridge has been out for most of the season through injury. When he returns though, the Reds could mount a top four charge, but not for the title. 6th

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2 thoughts on “Top Four Challengers – Have they got what it takes?

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