Manchester City are still considered favourites to win the Premier League despite falling six points off the pace, which has been set by Arsenal. But is the bookmakers’ assessment right, or is this Arsenal’s year? And what about Liverpool, who sit in second? Might third-place Aston Villa “do a Leicester” and shock them all? At the other end of the table, who might fall into the relegation scrap after Christmas?
This is the most exciting race the Premier League has seen in some time — a holiday gift for football fans, to be sure. So, here is my club-by-club view in alphabetical order of the way it looks this festive season.
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Arsenal: Their trip to Liverpool was a proper litmus test of their title ambitions and they scored early before digging in for an impressive 1-1 draw at Anfield. Last season’s disappointing near-miss has given them added steel this time, and the addition of Declan Rice has made them a better team. They look like a side that wants a first crown since 2004 very badly — they’re not making many mistakes and now must go close.
Aston Villa: A revelation despite nearly slipping up at home to Sheffield United on Friday. John McGinn leads by example, and they have a top keeper in Emi Martinez and scorer in Ollie Watkins. But their indifferent away form (13 points dropped) suggests a top-four finish is a more realistic target than the title.
Bournemouth: Five wins in their past six games, including a 3-0 triumph at Old Trafford, tells the story of how manager Andoni Iraola has answered his critics by imposing his high-pressing style on the Cherries after a troubled start. They will finish well clear of the drop zone.
Brentford: Have hit the buffers because of a long list of absentees. With Ivan Toney not back until Jan. 20 and key man Bryan Mbeumo out for three months, who will get the goals? But a 10-point cushion over the bottom three means no need for panic.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Nearly always a joy to watch and doing well in Europe, but something is not quite right. They have conceded in every single game. The constant rotation of their two goalkeepers and a league-high 72 changes can hardly help. There’s a feeling they can do even better with a gifted group and coach in Roberto De Zerbi.
Burnley: The first away win at Fulham may be a turning point, but they have been too soft, too often. Vincent Kompany needs to make them a more pragmatic, harder side to survive.
Chelsea: In cameos there have been signs of better times ahead after a very messy year. The return of the gifted Christopher Nkunku and getting to a Carabao Cup semifinal will lift the mood. But the top four looks out of reach because they have been too soft and erratic, as seen in pitiful efforts at Everton and Man United recently.
Crystal Palace: Rumours persist that they might replace manager Roy Hodgson with Steve Cooper, who has lost his job at Nottingham Forest. That would be dangerous. Hodgson will likely have Palace climbing again after a poor run now that he has Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise back fit and firing.
Everton: Rattled off four wins in five games since the 10-point deduction. The emergence of defender Jarrad Branthwaite and the return to real fitness by striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin are key factors in the revival. Manager Sean Dyche deserves enormous credit for changing the Goodison mindset after an lucky loss at Spurs.
Fulham: Concerns that they could struggle after the departure of top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic have proved groundless. Two recent successive 5-0 wins and a first ever Carabao Cup semifinal place offer proof that Marco Silva has worked a little magic. The home loss to Burnley was perhaps just one of those days.
Liverpool: Without hitting peak form, they are only a point off the top after their draw at home with leaders Arsenal. There’s a persistent sense that this new-look team under Jurgen Klopp have not quite gelled yet, and their misfiring 0-0 draw against Manchester United in their previous game has cost them being top of the table on Christmas Day. Most points from losing positions makes them the comeback kings. Losing Mohamed Salah to the Africa Cup of Nations will not help.
Luton Town: Despite the prophets of doom, they are competitive in every game and have been refreshing additions to the top flight. If they do go down, they will do so kicking and screaming.
Manchester City: The FIFA Club World Cup makes it five trophies in 2023. At their best, they are the top team on the planet. The problem is they have not been at that best very often in the Premier League, conceding sloppy goals and surrendering points. City have the talent, but they’re finding out why no team has ever won four English league titles in a row. It is hard to stay quite hungry enough.
Manchester United: Despite a defiant point at Anfield, they look like an ordinary team weighed down by myriad issues and the negative vibe around the club (which has only increased after that loss to Bournemouth.) Perhaps the Ineos takeover of United’s football operations can impact the changes needed to get this famous club back on track. Only Sheffield United have scored fewer goals — a truly incriminating stat for Erik Ten Hag, who needs an upturn in results urgently.
Newcastle United: Decimated by a mountainous and luckless injury list, their overworked players look jaded. The uncharacteristic errors by Kieran Trippier underline that point. Out of Europe and the League Cup, manager Eddie Howe needs a New Year’s charge to avoid accusations that this wealthy club has gone backward. Don’t bet against him doing exactly that once the injuries clear.
Nottingham Forest: Taking a gamble by sacking popular manager Steve Cooper and replacing him with Nuno Espirito Santo. A bloated squad is struggling without top scorer Taiwo Awoniyi. The bottom three teams might see them as catchable.
Sheffield United: Chris Wilder’s return might just spark a revival of sorts. Certainly they showed new fight and resilience to end Aston Villa’s 100 per cent home record. But question marks over their lack of quality persist.
Tottenham Hotspur: The most enjoyable team to watch this season. Some of their fast flowing football has been breathtaking, and for that manager Ange Postecoglu deserves his exalted status with the Spurs fans. But he will hope they can win more than popularity contests come May. They concede a few too many goals.
West Ham United: The flair of Mohammed Kudus and Lucas Paquetá, allied to the threat of Jarrod Bowen, makes this a David Moyes’ team with a bit of X factor. Going well in Europe and the Premier League, disappointing to see Moyes field a weakened team for this week’s 5-1 League Cup quarterfinal defeat at Anfield. An opportunity thrown away there.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: They have beaten Manchester City and Spurs at Molineux and will carry more of a threat when winger Pedro Neto returns soon from injury. Poor away form and some atrocious luck with VAR is costing Gary O’Neil’s team a higher spot than 13th.