The past two weeks have been a hectic time for clubs in the EPL with cup tournaments and a mid-week program cluttering up schedules. And when the dust settled (it will be kicked up again in a couple of days as weekend business as usual resumes in the EPL on Saturday), it revealed a scenario that, while similar, was nevertheless surprising. We look at ten statements that sum up where the EPL stands today:
“We are free of pressure. The players have a good feeling.”
– Claudio Ranieri, Leicester City
2016 would see the Leicester flirtation with the top of the EPL end, the cynics had predicted. In the event, the Foxes not only ended the first month of the new year again at the top of the league, three points clear of Manchester City, but also emerge as credible frontrunners after a stunning display against Liverpool.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez continue to strike terror in defences with their speed and skill, and Vardy’s stunning strike against Liverpool is already a candidate for the goal of the year.
Their manager refuses to consider his seemingly star-less team as contenders for the title, preferring to focus on the ‘good’ feeling in the squad, but on the ground there is a feeling that Leicester are not merely flirting with the EPL title but are frontrunners in the marriage stakes!
“It is not only luck. I don’t believe too much in luck. We feel disappointed and guilty.”
– Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
This was supposed to be the year the Gunners ended their decade long drought of Premiership titles, and going into the January madness, they were on top of the table.
However, the month has seen them implode, and return to their old profligate ways in front of goal. Goals have been hard to come by, and as a result the team has gone four Premier League matches without winning for the first time since 2014. Yes, Alexis Sanchez is back and buzzing and Coquelin is set to return as well, but this might well turn out to be the month in which Arsenal dropped the EPL title, with their bete noire, Diego Costa, doing his bit, by not only getting Per Mertesacker sent off but also rubbing salt in the wound by scoring a goal to give Chelsea a shock win over the league leaders (at that time).
Arsenal are now fourth, and Wenger has more than enough reason to feel “disappointed and guilty.”
“It’s rare a journalist says something more positive than the manager…I’m not too fine with our game…”
– Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool
Liverpool have emerged as one of the most unpredictable teams in the Premiership under Jurgen Klopp. Capable of thrashing Manchester City one day, only to crumble against the likes of Southampton on another. And while the statistics are encouraging in terms of ground covered and chances created, the results are still not doing justice to the Merseyside Reds.
The team needs a striker, but Klopp opted not to go for one in the transfer window, preferring to carry on with Firminho as a target man. Results have been crazy, ranging from a thrilling 5-4 win over Norwich in arguably the game of the season so far, to a surprisingly flat 2-0 surrender to Leicester City. All that is predictable about Klopp’s men is their unpredictability.
And the wit of their manager. The media seems to be appreciating the team’s hard work. But Klopp is not too pleased.
“We’re here to win titles…Yesterday’s news was never going to be a distraction.”
– Joe Hart, Manchester City
The Blues of Manchester are back in the title hunt, although the farewell notes have already been struck for their manager, Manuel Pellegrini, who will be replaced by Pep Guardiola at the end of a campaign his team rather ironically seem well-placed to win.
With Sergio Aguero back and in form, City are once again looking like the title favourites they had seemed earlier in the season. There are many who believe that the team would be doing its best to send the affable and popular Pellegrini off on a positive note. Hart might not have admitted it, but there is a shadow over City already. And it is Guardiola shaped.
The new manager is expected to ring in some changes, which might make the current squad members go the extra mile to win the title.
“ We’re in big trouble now…”
– Sam Allardyce, Sunderland
He has a reputation for keeping teams up, but Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce must be wondering if he has bitten off more than he can chew at Sunderland.
Allardyce got a number of players to refresh the squad in the transfer window, but even a much improved performance against Manchester City delivered nothing in terms of points or goals, leaving Sunderland seemingly anchored to the base of the table.
He has the players and they are putting in the effort but with a mere 19 points in 24 matches, Sunderland might indeed be in as much trouble as their manager claimed the club were after the final whistle at Manchester City!
“Our plan was perfect”
– Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur
The Spurs was referring to his team’s brisk start against Norwich, whom they duly overwhelmed 3-0, but he might well have been referring to his team’s season in general, and recent performances in particular.
Spurred (well, that pun HAD to come) by Harry Kane and Dele Alli, who seem to be scoring goals for fun, Tottenham stand now in third place in the EPL, and also have the best goal difference of any team. And the reason for this has been a carefully planned, albeit low profile, campaign by Pochettino.
Spurs, like Leicester City, might be relatively predictable in their approach, but it has worked for them. And has presented them with their best chance of winning the Premiership for quite a while now.
“The club will move on. No player is ever bigger than the club.”
– John Terry, Chelsea
Defending champions Chelsea seem to have finally laid fears of relegation to rest and at the time of writing, were on a seven match unbeaten run under Guus Hiddink.
The fact that the club is still at 13th spot in spite of this improved form just shows how wretched things have been at the club. And results notwithstanding, there is a sense of instability at Stamford Bridge.
Hiddink is after all, a temporary appointment, and now it seems even the iconic John Terry will depart. The club is indeed moving on, as Terry said. But fans will wonder: in which direction?
“It will be good for him and good for me because when he scores we win.”
– Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United
Manchester United’s manager could well have been summing up his team’s fortunes this season when he was talking of star striker Wayne Rooney’s chances of breaking Bobby Charlton’s goal-scoring record for the Manchester Reds.
The past few weeks have seen the Dutchman being booed off the pitch as well as being wildly applauded, depending on the form of the talismanic English striker. The club are fifth in the league right now, and still in running for a Champions League place, if not quite for the title.
Although, if Rooney starts firing on all cylinders, even that might be possible. It has been a season when United have flirted with the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure.
“ I have nothing else to say.”
– Remy Garde, Aston Villa
He might not want to say anything about his future at the club at the very bottom of the EPL but the season is going from bad to worse to Aston Villa, and manager Remi Garde must be wondering if it is even worth wasting hope on a cause that seems now irretrievably lost and a team that seems disinterested (witness Jordan Ayew’s silly foul that saw him sent off in 0-2 defeat against West Ham).
One of England’s most famous football teams, Villa have a mere 13 points from 24 matches and their lack of activity in the transfer market is being interpreted as a concession of defeat. That said, don’t forget which team were near the bottom of the table at this time last season. Leicester City. But do miracles happen twice?
“It’s fair to say we are learning from painful lessons.”
– Roberto Martinez, Everton
Everton have reason to feel hard done by this season. The Blues of Merseyside have played some thrilling football and in Romelu Lukaku have one of the best strikers in the league, but have been let down by their penchant for conceding late goals, which has left them at 12th place. A 3-0 win against Newcastle was being seen by many as settling experience, priming the Toffees for a late season surge. Manager Martinez will certainly hope the Blues have learnt their lessons.