Football

The state of play ahead of the second half of the season


We’re back, baby.

Boxing Day marks the return of the Premier League, with England’s top flight having been on pause for over a month due to the, ahem, interesting timing of this year’s World Cup.

We’re sure you’ve been brushing up on what’s happened so far this season as your team prepares to return to action. Just in case you haven’t, though, we’ve summed up the state of play for you here so you’re all set for Boxing Day.

Manchester City have won four of the last five Premier League titles, and will be determined to win three in a row for the first time in their history with another triumph this season.

So far, however, that has been easier said than done. Usual title rivals Liverpool have been off the pace this season but a new challenger has emerged: a resurgent Arsenal, who sit at the top of the tree this Christmas having won twelve and lost just one of their opening fourteen games.

City’s strength in depth and title-winning pedigree probably still just about gives them the edge in this race – not to mention the prodigious goalscoring abilities of Erling Haaland – but Mikel Arteta’s Gunners have been superb and are deservedly top of the league at this stage. Can these two sides push each other all the way?

Only City and Arsenal look remotely likely to win the league this year, but the race for the top four is where things really start to get interesting.

In third place are Newcastle, who have defied all expectations to land themselves firmly in the hunt for European football with some stellar performances. Eddie Howe’s side have lost only once so far and, despite the money being pumped into the club by their new owners, have exceeded almost everyone’s expectations by doing so well, so soon.

Behind the Magpies are Tottenham Hotspur, who under Antonio Conte continue to be one of the most confusing sides in the league. Spurs are a defensively solid outfit and can be shockingly dull to watch at times, yet they are among the league’s highest scorers and remain on course to qualify for the Champions League for a second successive season. Their form was beginning to dip before the World Cup, but Conte will be hoping to repeat his side’s form in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign.

The race for the top four doesn’t end there, however. Next up are Manchester United and Liverpool, both of whom have recovered from poor starts to climb the table and will fancy their chances of sneaking into a Champions League spot. United are steadily improving under the management of Erik ten Hag, while Liverpool have arrested their slump after a series of poor results and performances.

Chelsea will also try and keep optimistic about European qualification despite currently sitting eighth in the table, needing to find consistency under new manager Graham Potter. Meanwhile, Potter’s former club Brighton have started the season superbly and will be desperate to achieve European qualification themselves. With so many sides trying to fit into a handful of league places, this is bound to be a fascinating narrative as the season progresses.

This is shaping up to be one of the best relegation battles in years, with pretty much all of the bottom 10 or 11 teams needing to look over their shoulder.

The early frontrunners for the drop were newly-promoted Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest. Both sides have since demonstrated that they are capable of picking up points in the top flight, however, opening the door for a less obvious team to fall through the trapdoor.

Currently bottom of the table are Wolves, who despite possessing a more-than-decent squad have simply been unable to score goals. Will a change of management help to steady the ship at Molineux?

We’re less than halfway through the season, but already six Premier League sides have hired a new manager.

Bournemouth were the first to act, sacking Scott Parker after he lost 9-0 to Liverpool and essentially said his players weren’t good enough for the league. Since then, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Wolves and Southampton have all lost patience with their respective gaffers, while Brighton were forced to find a new manager after Chelsea nabbed Potter from them.

The Blues started brightly under Potter but have since suffered a slump in form only arrested by the arrival of the World Cup. Bournemouth have been resurgent under Gary O’Neil and now stand a fighting chance of survival, while Unai Emery has already picked up a couple of wins at Aston Villa to help them steer clear of the drop zone.

Southampton’s Nathan Jones needs more time before a proper judgment can be made, while incoming Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui takes charge of his first match against Everton on Boxing Day.

In terms of upcoming managerial changes, one or two bosses will be looking over their shoulder as the season resumes. Frank Lampard has struggled to steady the ship at Everton, while West Ham‘s David Moyes has underachieved massively following a major summer spending spree. Jesse Marsch has come under serious pressure at Leeds United, while Leicester‘s Brendan Rodgers appears to have turned his side’s fortunes around and is out of the sack race for the time being.



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