BY DEBBIE FLETCHER
Entertaining, unpredictable and totally absorbing – the Premier League season hasn’t failed to disappoint. As 2014 makes way for 2015 and the second half of the campaign, let’s take a look at the key talking points so far.
Chelsea can be beaten – but the title is theirs to lose…
The formidable Blues are still the strongest team in the league – adding Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to an already excellent squad has only increased their quality – and by rights the Londoners should win the championship. But the first week in December highlighted that Chelsea can have an off day, too: Jose Mourinho’s team were beaten 2-1 at Newcastle and a short time before that they were held 0-0 at Sunderland. Both fixtures, in fairness, that Chelsea would have expected to win. That said, if key players remain available the club should conclude the season as champions – and this blog, from Eurosport, debates whether holding midfielder Nemanja Matic, rather than Costa or Fabregas, is Chelsea’s most influential figure.
…. while City’s chances hinge on Sergio Aguero
As Chelsea stumbled slightly, Manchester City will have been encouraged that their title hopes need not be extinguished just yet. As their coach, Manuel Pellegrini, has pointed out more than once, league championships are not won in November or December (he’ll no doubt say January, and then February, soon, too). But the sight of Sergio Aguero leaving the field in tears after suffering a knee injury against Everton was a distressing one. The Argentinian striker has been superb for City, carrying the team at times, in fact. He may be only be out for around a month but his ongoing injury issues are a concern and he has a habit of breaking down too often. He needs to be nursed and protected, for City’s title hopes rest with him. Visit Vernons for latest odds on the championship race.
Surprise! Hammers and Saints causing shocks
At the beginning of the season two of the clubs perhaps expected to struggle might have been West Ham and Southampton. Hammers boss Sam Allardyce was under pressure after a couple of seasons of uninspiring performances while new Saints coach Ronald Koeman had seen some of his best players sold. But both have responded fantastically. Southampton’s new players have thrived, while West Ham have been playing some brilliant football. Little wonder that Allardyce is now being praised – read this analysis of his work by the Daily Mail.
The great Newcastle revival
Speaking of managerial revivals, none is more than impressive than that of Alan Pardew. A stinking start to the season saw Newcastle sinking towards the bottom of the league and Pardew under scrutiny. And yet, just as the pressure appeared to be about to boil over with the team winless in seven and the coach on his final chance, fortunes turned. After scraping past Leicester with a Gabriel Obertan goal in October, the Magpies won five league games in a row, plus a Carling Cup tie against Man City. The start of December saw Chelsea beaten at St James’ Park. It’s not unrealistic to expect Newcastle to challenge for a top six place at this rate.
Life is tough for the promoted clubs The league table doesn’t lie and certainly not when the games played total reaches double figures. After 15 games the three clubs promoted to the Premier League last season were all at the wrong end of the table: Leicester, Burnley and QPR, though Hull had also been dragged down there. Sometimes, one of the newly promoted clubs will thrive – see Swansea a couple of seasons ago – but this time around the trio are finding top flight life very tough.
Leicester’s form has collapsed since a famous victory over Manchester United though Burnley have reason to hope after winning successive games against Stoke and Hull. QPR have a squad packed with experience and perhaps the best chance of pulling clear in the next few months. What does the second half of the season have in store?