English Premier League 2018/19
What a first half it was for the neutral fan. There was complete football as expected from Liverpool, a hot and seemingly insurmountable start by City only that fizzled into 2nd place with the injury to their main star Kevin De Bruyne, the demise of Jose Mourinho and rebirth of Manchester United under new manager and legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Here’s how we viewed the first half of the EPL season and what we predict the 2nd half of the season will produce.
The Title Race
It’s been business as usual this season for Manchester City and Liverpool FC. Man City started the season hot, racking up goal differentials that were reminiscent of the utter dominance of the previous season. A crucial injury to Belgian star Kevin De Bruyne 30 minutes into the season seemed set to throw a spanner into the works, but fair play to Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. They’ve stepped up when needed to fill the main creative role alongside David Silva. I can’t say enough about how important Fernandinho is as the rock in the Cityzens midfield. Countless times this season, the Brazil has been the fulcrum for starting the attack many times with a crunching tackle and direct outlet to Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling playing “Catch me if you can” on the wings. As long as Sergio Kun Aguero is able to stay healthy, City should score aplenty as it’s fair to say that City’s breadth of midfield creators will be able to continue rotation as they have so far. A healthy De Bruyne playing 90 minutes will likely bring them back to last year’s champion quality, but it’s looking likely they may need a slip up or two from the current league leaders.
This brings us to Liverpool who easily seem the most hungry side in the league this season. As I thought, Jurgen Klopp is continually getting the most out of his starring role players. Roberto Firmino hasn’t performed on the stat sheet quite like last season, but is equally as involved and knows how to play anywhere his team needs him, some would argue that he is the key man in ‘Pool’s attack. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane providing continuous threats cutting in the space Firmino leaves for them, and in much more free roles this season. The same starring role story goes for Gigi Wijnaldum in midfield. However, the biggest difference this season is the solidified team defense and organization, starting with the shot stopper Alisson Becker. An incredible 13 shutouts, only allowing 2 goals in one instance (against major title contender Man City), he has been unconscious. Virgil Van Dijk is proving to be worth every penny of his once conceived “outlandish” transfer fee. The Dutch man is inarguably the best defender in the world at this moment. If he stays healthy the defense will likely always be organized, regardless of the knocks to players around him. With only three of their final 15 games against top 6 clubs, this is going to be smooth sailing for the Reds unless a catastrophic injury occurs.
What about the Tottenham Hotspurs? Their best start in the EPL in the club’s history still has them 9 points behind the lead dogs which tells you a thing or two about how much of a challenge the league is this season. A recent injury blow to Harry Kane – the fulcrum of attack and heart of the club who is out until early March is really going to hurt, especially with Son Heung Min gone for the Asia Games for probably a month. Arsenal and Chelsea aren’t a topic in this conversation, a full year under their new managers and solidifying team selections are in order before they re-enter the realm of solid league contenders even though Chelsea started off like they might be in the picture. You can’t win this league without a defense Gunners, or the ability to score goals consistently in Chelsea’s case.
Of the three clubs that have a chance to contend for the title, it’s now looking like Spurs need someone most urgently. Their decision not to sign a single player in the summer seemed all fine and dandy, that is until 3 midfielders get hurt, two strikers followed, and another leaves for a second required international duty. They’re playing for consolation at this point unless a late deal turns in their favor – possibly a swap for Eriksen with Real Madrid could bring in an Isco, or dare I say it a Gareth Bale return. A little more firepower could get them within touching distance if Liverpool and City were to collapse.
Chelsea has been doing the most shopping so far. By now the hype of Christian Pulisic’s transfer has reached the masses everywhere, it surely will be great to see our American star taking the next step to develop his skills in the most challenging league. With Eden Hazard seeming likely to leave in the summer, let us hope this means plenty of playing time for him next year. In terms of this season’s woes, the Blues desperately need a goal scorer. Forcing Hazard into the false 9 role hasn’t proved a solution, and is apparently frustrating their star. Hence the chasing of strikers left and right including a proven world class striker in Gonzalo Higuain who’s certainly not a long term solution but could be the poacher they need for a couple of years. As of today, Higuain has reportedly handed in a transfer request in hopes of linking back up with Coach Sarri. Selling off Callum Hudson Odoi, the young english winger who is set on Bayern, would certainly fund the striker bill.
Then there’s Arsenal. The North Londoners are working with a zero budget unless the selling of Aaron Ramsey to Juventus this window happens (99.999% not happening). Links with Denis Suarez are irrelevant without some kind of funding, with Barca having placed a 20 Million Euro price tag on him. Where the Gunners really need some help is on the wing and in defense, yet there’ve been no links in those positions. Losing chief scout Sven Mislintat is going to be another big blow to a club struggling to find itself. As a club with historic past, there leaves a lot to be desired in the development of the youth and smart transfers.
Elsewhere we’ve seen Samir Nasri reunite with Pellegrini at West Ham, making an immediate impact in his first start with the club, while it seems Marko Arnautovic clearly wants a money move to China. Ryan Babel lands at a struggling Fulham, he’ll hope to finish his career strong now back in the Premier League. There’ll be more moves to come for sure and we’re waiting with bated breath to see who makes the push for the 2nd half of the year.
The Man United Saga
Well we kind of foreshadowed this trainwreck didn’t we? Typical season 3 house of cards collapse for the proclaimed, “Chosen One”. Jose Mourinho’s results with Manchester United in the first 10 games were catastrophic, at one point United were parked in the bottom half of the table for a couple of weeks. It’s not just that he failed to get the most out of players, but resisted to play his best players in order to retain his puppetry over the play style. The fire got out of hand quickly, to the point where he became more of the topic of conversation before, during and after the games than the players on the field. Like a breath of fresh air, the sacking and hire of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been able to realign the sails and get them instantly back on track. Five wins over lower table clubs left many wondering if the early run was coincidence, but after beating the Spurs this past weekend, United can disregard the naysayers. With less restrictions on his playmakers, Ole’s provided a “go out there and have fun” attitude that is the opposite of the chained to the spot roles forced under Mourinho. Instantly off his leash, Paul Pogba was refreshingly sprinting into dangerous areas and creating for his teammates, averaging almost a goal and an assist per game in the first 6 under Ole. Equally as important, the goals have been flowing, and young starlet Marcus Rashford is really coming into his own. Getting only 21 shots in his first 15 games under Jose, he has equaled that total in his first 5 games with Solskjaer. It will be exciting to see the Red Devils chasing down the 3rd spot in the table, and it would be a win and boost for next season to get there; a result that would likely bring the ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ into consideration for the permanent gig as manager.
Mid Table Analysis
Some really exciting games have come from the mid table clubs this season, proving the depth and week-in competitiveness of the league. Wolverhampton Wanderers shocked the defending champions City by tying in week 3, they’ve managed a point against Manchester United and Arsenal, and a full three against both Chelsea and Spurs, showing that they definitely belong in the Prem and are riding their successes from the Championship run last year.
Everton has had its ups and downs, while young star Richarlison has proven he can create goals, it’s to be seen if the number 9 role fits him. He had a much better run of play on the left wing, allowing him more freedom and space to create off of the dribble and run in late to the box for crosses. Lucas Digne has been a nice addition to the defense, creating a lot of chances from the left flank and chipping in with some key goals. With an attack only capable of 1-2 goals a game, Everton’s leaky defense will need some work and it will begin with some consistency out of Jordan Pickford in goal. The Toffees only notable result has been a 0-0 tie with Chelsea and this form leaves something to be desired.
West Ham’s Felipe Anderson has seen a fantastic start to his season, netting 8 and assisting 3 from the wing, while Roberto Pereya has seen similar success on the left flank for Watford scoring 6 and assisting 4. Despite a spot in 12th place, Eddie Howe has Bournemouth playing some attractive football this season proving that previous performances in the league was no fluke. Callum Wilson is a wanted man because of his 9 goals and 8 assists in his 20 games played, with Ryan Francis scoring 5 and assisting 9 from the wing. With Nathan Ake and David Brooks also being targeted, the future looks bright for AFC Bournemouth.
A mediocre season so far from Jamie Vardy still sees the Leicester Foxes in 8th. With Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira playing exceptionally well down the flanks, it’s only a matter of time before they climb towards the Euro spots with a healthy McGuire to lead the backline. The one time Cinderella champs may not win the league this year but they’re still decent entertainment value.
How the season Ends
We started off the 2018/19 PL season with great predictions and all these gorgeous thoughts. Right now, this is what we think. As long as Liverpool FC stays healthy, they’re going to finish as Champions. It’s been a long time coming and they should finally catch their big rivals United in title wins. 19 will be glorious. Manchester City are having a really good season but they needed to be historic to top this Liverpool and they’ve not been that despite the hot start so 2nd is likely theirs. United and Spurs ought to round up the top four leaving Chelsea and Arsenal to battle for 5th and 6th.