Manchester United have been a dominant force in the English Premier League era, winning an amazing 12 titles in 19 seasons. Four of those titles have come in the last five seasons, including last season, when they beat out Manchester City and Chelsea by nine points.
So, it was no surprise that coming into this season, Premier League odds had United installed as favorites for the title, and a hot start only served to strengthen that position. However, for at least the time being, they’ve relinquished top spot and favorite status to archrivals City, who are currently five points clear at the top of the table.
But while City look almost unstoppable at the moment, there’s still a long, long way to go yet, and as the past has shown, an early deficit doesn’t mean all is lost.
Manchester City (Odds to Win Title: 10/11)
City have forced any and all to stand up and take notice in the first few months of the season, as they’ve mercilessly dominated many a foe early on.
For a while, City and United all but matched one another blow for blow, but Roberto Mancini’s side pulled ahead in mid-October and then consolidated their place at the top with a stunning 6-1 win at Old Trafford a few weeks ago.
Saturday’s 3-2 win at QPR was the ninth time that City have scored at least three goals in a game this season, and it was only their second league victory that wasn’t by multiple goals. With how they’ve tossed so many opponents aside and the talent that they have all over the pitch, City are certainly looking the part. If there’s any season for them to end their title drought, it’s this season.
However, for all that they’ve proven thus far, City haven’t faced too many tests yet, and they must prove that they can handle this added pressure and grind out results in tense situations – as they did at QPR – over the course of a long season. Also, there’s a fair chance they could have the added commitment (or distraction?) of European football for quite a while.
Questions about their mental makeup will be answered in time, but their quality depth in a number of areas, with or without Carlos Tevez in the picture, is certainly a positive for their title chances.
We’ll get a good chance to see what City are made of over the next month-plus, as they face tough ties at Liverpool and Chelsea and at home against Arsenal, who appear to gaining more and more confidence by the game.
Manchester United (Odds to Win Title: 7/4)
So, United are five points back through only 11 matches and already have a head-to-head defeat at home against the league leaders.
Yes, those are strikes against them, but if anyone is counting United out at this point, they are only asking for history to repeat itself. United have a fairly favorable fixture list for the next couple of months, which could give them a chance to close the gap on City before they go up against Arsenal (away), Chelsea (away), and Liverpool (home) over the course of a few weeks in late January and early February.
They have the mentality to be counted on to grind out results in key situations, but do they have the horses? They’ve been bitten by the injury bug quite a bit early on, they’ve once again made a habit of living dangerously, and there’s still a big question mark in the center of midfield. Of course, those things were all an issue last season, but they still went on to win the title and reached a third UEFA Champions League final in four seasons.
But the defeat to City could and should serve as a real wake-up call, and don’t be surprised if they elect to add a reinforcement or two in January. Without reinforcements, you should still expect them to be there at the end, especially if they can put their spate of injuries behind them, but the right addition(s) could make all the difference.
Newcastle (Odds to Win Title: 500/1)
If you made a bet before the season with a friend that Newcastle would be unbeaten in November, they’d have had a good laugh then. But you’d be the one laughing now, with a little extra money in your pocket.
As crazy as it sounds, Newcastle are alone with City in the lofty ranks of the unbeaten, and their surprising start sees them currently sit third, only one point behind United. Alan Pardew deserves a lot of praise for getting as much as he has out of a team that wasn’t expected to do much this season. There aren’t any stars in the side, but Demba Ba has scored as many goals himself as the Magpies have allowed all season (8), a total that’s fewer than City, United, and anyone else in the Premier League.
But can they keep this up? Newcastle’s next three matches are United away, Chelsea away, and City at home, so the odds are in favor of their unbeaten run ending very soon. However, you can guarantee that those three sides will be taking them far more seriously than they might have before.
It’s hard to fathom Newcastle making a serious title run, and the top four might well be beyond their reach in the end, but why not take a punt at those odds? At the very least, this start could convince Mike Ashley to open the coffers a little in January to ensure that European football returns to St. James’ Park for the first time since the 2006/07 season.
Chelsea (Odds to Win Title: 7/1)
You know Roman Abramovich doesn’t stand for being second-best, so it was no surprise to see him shell out big money on a hotshot new manager and some new additions this past summer after Chelsea fell short last season.
Juan Mata has had a fine start to his Chelsea career, but it looks like the honeymoon period is over for boss Andre Villas-Boas. After coming out on the short end against two city rivals, as they were blanked 1-0 at QPR and shipped five at home in a 5-3 defeat to surging Arsenal, Chelsea squeaked by woeful Blackburn 1-0 at Ewood Park on Saturday.
Chelsea currently sit fourth, nine points back of City, which is far from the ideal position to be in this early. Along with the obvious bumps that can occur when a new manager comes in (or when there’s seemingly a managerial revolving door), an aging core and inconsistent performances individually and collectively could be to blame for Chelsea‘s early stumbles.
But remember, they were 15 points back of United last season before mounting a furious late charge, and with the talent they have, they’re quite capable of making a run at any time, especially if Fernando Torres can start to deliver on a consistent basis. And there is the opportunity to trim some of that deficit soon, as three of their next four matches are at Stamford Bridge, including their tie against City next month.
Given what they’ve achieved in the last several seasons, you certainly can’t dismiss the Blues as title contenders, but they need to work out their kinks at both ends before their hole gets any deeper.
Tottenham (Odds to Win Title: 40/1)
Bad start? What bad start? Since losing to United and City by a combined 8-1, Spurs have been on fire, and were it not for allowing a late equalizer at Newcastle United, they’d have eight wins in a row.
As it is, with a 7-1-0 mark in their last eight matches, Spurs are level on points with Chelsea with a game in hand, thanks to the riot-related postponement of their scheduled opener against Everton. Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale have played big roles in their run, Luka Modric has put his summer of discontent fully behind him, and Scott Parker has already proven to be a fantastic addition.
But are Tottenham capable of thrusting themselves into the title conservation? You look like at their slate for the next few months leading up to a visit to Manchester City in late January, and it’s completely possible that they could if they continue to play at the level they have been.
And after a run of several tough games from late January to late March, Spurs’ toughest game in the last few months could be… a trip to Aston Villa, as they don‘t face any of the Premier League‘s big boys after a visit to Stamford Bridge on 24 March. With such a favorable run in, don’t count them out if they happen to survive that January-March stretch still within striking distance.
They could do to add another striker and bolster the defense a tad (Gary Cahill, perhaps?) in January, but with top, top talents in Van der Vaart, Bale, Modric, and Parker, they have a solid core that could lead them far.
Liverpool (Odds to Win Title: 33/1)
Liverpool might have been a popular outsider pick at the start of the season after making two big additions in January (three, if you count Kenny Dalglish) and spending big in the summer, but their odds might now be going in the wrong direction, even though they’re unbeaten in their last six after consecutive defeats to Stoke City and Spurs.
A home draw against United isn’t an unrespectable result, but if you want to be a contender, or even finish in the top four, you need to win the ones you’re supposed to. Liverpool have failed to do that in their last two home matches, drawing against promoted sides Norwich and Swansea.
Had they picked up maximum points in those two matches, they’d be in fourth, a point ahead of Chelsea, but alas, they’re in sixth, three behind Chelsea and a dozen adrift of City. That margin could only increase, with their next two matches being at Chelsea and at home against City. Getting a result from both of those matches would not only boost their position in the table but would also serve as a massive confidence boost.
The owner’s expectation wasn’t to contend for the title, and that looks to be well beyond their reach, but his expectation for a top-four finish is far from unreasonable. The talent is certainly there to still achieve that, especially if Steven Gerrard can avoid another long spell on the sidelines. But it seems that talent hasn’t fully gelled yet, and there’s also a glaring issue with making the most of the mass of chances they’ve been creating and turning dominance into valuable points.
Arsenal (Odds to Win Title: 33/1)
Had their current excellent form not been preceded by a disastrous start, we could be talking about Arsenal as title contenders. But that disastrous start, in which they picked up only seven points in their first seven matches, might well have been what was required to bring the best out of the Gunners, as they’ve recorded four league wins on the trot, including their stunning win at Chelsea.
With their confidence now high and the schedule in their favor – they’ve already faced United, Chelsea, and Tottenham away, and they’ll visit Manchester City next month – is there still a chance for Arsenal to jump back into the thick of the title race?
Their terrible start put a severe dent in those chances, but anything is possible. If they’re to keep this up, it would help to get a little more scoring assistance, because as hot in the zone as Robin van Persie is right now, he can’t be expected to do it all alone. Also, their back line is still a question mark, and that can’t be ignored.