Who would bet against City winning Premiership again and Norwich going down … again?
For close to 50% of the teams in the Premiership the 2021-22 season is half over. Though, for some, it is looking as if it is all over – bar the shouting.
Nineteen games is the halfway mark. At the year end (December 31), nine out of the 20 teams in the league have hit or exceeded that figure of 19 games. Manchester City have played 20 and already they have an eight-point lead. If they were eight points behind, I wouldn’t bet against they retaining their crown. But, eight ahead? Get the light blue ribbons ready now for attaching to the trophy.
And all achieved without signing a recognised centre-forward. City have dropped 10 points so far. Imagine what they might be doing had they managed to sign Harry Kane from Spurs. I shudder at the thought.
Below them the struggle for places in other Champions League slots is far from clear. Chelsea (42 points), Liverpool (41) and Arsenal (35) currently occupy the other places in the top four.
When I wrote my season preview back in August Chelsea had not secured the signing of Romelu Lukaku. Had they managed to keep him fit I would have expected the current holders of the Champions League to be closer to City. Chelsea have just announced a significant annual loss of close to £150m. Expect a few of their players to be on their way in the coming January transfer window.
Liverpool and Arsenal each have a game in hand over the top two. If terms of confidence, the nature of the Reds defeat at Leicester must have rocked them. Salah missing a penalty? Whatever next?
Arsenal, you have to say, have bounced back wonderfully well after a disastrous start to the season. After losing the first three games they have picked up 35 points from the following 16 matches despite obvious problems behind the scenes with their captain. I expect Aubameyang to be on his way in January provided his involvement for Gabon in the African Cup of Nations does not form a stumbling block to negotiations. The Gunners seem to have some fine talent coming through their youth ranks so they may not miss Auba too much.
Who will Arsenal be looking over their collective shoulders at?
Next in the standings are West Ham and Manchester United on 31 points, then Spurs (30). West Ham managed to snap a poor run of form with their emphatic win at Watford. In my season preview I wrote of the Hammers: “I think West Ham over-performed last season to get European football. Can’t see a repeat, but don’t expect them to face relegation worries. Mid-table for them.” I’m in no rush to change my mind despite the team’s great start to the season. Moyes is doing a good job.
Man United and Spurs both have games in hand on the Hammers (United 1, Spurs 2). Spurs under Conte still lack something. Maybe Harry Kane wanting away has unsettled them.
And, as for United, I think if you could promise their fans fourth place now they would bite your hand off. Their display away at Newcastle was little short of abysmal and at home to Burnley wasn’t a whole lot better. I thought the 3-1 result, while never really in doubt, flattered them.
The relegation fight is very much on. Pre-season I conceded that no brownie points would gained for predicting that the promoted teams – Norwich, Watford and Brentford – might go straight down. At the halfway point it looks like only Brentford have a decent chance of surviving.
Burnley are also down there, but they have played just 16 games (three fewer than many around them). I would back them to stay up.
I think Norwich are gone with just 10 points. The East Anglian side lack the deep pockets of other teams and even after getting in manager Dean Smith on the rebound after he was sacked by Villa (prematurely in my view) I don’t think they will have enough goals in them to stay up.
Talking of deep pockets, that brings me to Newcastle. Pre-season, I wrote: “I wonder how many more times Newcastle can flirt with relegation and go on to survive.” Who would back them to stay up now, even with new wealthy owners?
I think Eddie Howe is a decent manager, but he inherited a fairly motley crew. Yes, they may have money to spend in January, but to get a side to play as a team takes time and the Magpies are rapidly running out of that. I expect them to be relegated, retain Howe, recruit well in the summer and be well placed to bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
And what of my other pre-season predictions? I thought Leeds would be doing a lot better than they are (16th with 16 points at the time of writing). Everton are wallowing one place above them – another surprise to me.
Southampton are in 13th and I had expected them to be lower. I said Brighton might flirt with the bottom three and they have fared much better.
Between these two south coast teams are Palace and Villa. Palace under Vieira are doing well. They have a star in the making in Conor Gallagher, but he is only on loan from Chelsea. Time to make the signing permanent given Chelsea’s current financial problems? Who knows?
I thought Villa would be doing better following the signing of Danny Ings, but he can’t score goals when he isn’t on the pitch due to injury.
That just leaves the Midlands-based sides Wolves and Leicester. Wolves (8th) are doing well with a new manager. I thought they might struggle. And Leicester are not doing as well as I expected under Brendan Rogers. But they have time.
Renewed top and bottom predictions?
City to run away with the league. The other places in the top four to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United – in that order.
The three for relegation? Newcastle, Watford and Norwich. Again, in that order.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Gunners were able to keep United out of the top four. It would surprise me if any of my bottom three are wrong.
Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that, it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.