We examine how the season has gone so far for the Prem’s biggest teams from the fan’s perspective.
We are now nearing the halfway point of an exciting season in the greatest league in the world and what better way to dissect, discuss and understand the proceedings thus far than hear from the fans themselves? UCL’s very own Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United’s faithful shed light on how they think things have gone so far. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a Tottenham Hotspur fan to take part in this…if Spurs fans do actually exist, please do drop me a line my lonely friend(s). I can offer you sympathy and a warm voice to hear from, but not much else for the pain of 57 years without winning the league.
After our incredible season last year, when we broke every record possible and became the first centurions, I didn’t think the 2018/19 season could be any better. However, it already is. Granted, it did take us a while to get going, but we are now top of the league, having not lost a game in the Premier League so far, getting 7 points out of a possible 9 against the top 5 (all away from home) and we are still in all four competitions. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing: we had a tough time away at Wolves, De Bruyne’s injury is a worry and I feel like it was 2 points missed when Mahrez skied that penalty at Anfield. Yet going into the Liverpool game I would have been happy with a point. I’m optimistic for the rest of the season and hopefully we can win the league again. Nevertheless, Pep’s priority must be in the Champions League and getting to at least the semi-final this year. I honestly think Pep has got this team working the way he wants it and our squad has the depth needed to win even more trophies. I’m particularly impressed this season with Bernardo Silva, who has been influential in every game and completely dominated the Manchester Derby. He is part of an electric midfield, but if City are going to improve in January then we could do with another striker who is an out-and-out goal-scorer – at the moment Gabriel Jesus isn’t doing so well.
After a thrilling blockbuster season, Liverpool’s players returned as the second-favourites for the Premier League. The arrival of Naby Keïta, Fabinho and Alisson, coupled with a Champions League Final appearance, and Liverpool appearing to be the only team with the ability to best the record-breaking behemoth, Manchester City, engendered an excitement and expectation around the club which now seems remarkable given where we were only a year ago at this very point in the season. Now thirteen fixtures in, Liverpool remain unbeaten, a mere two points behind Manchester City, whose bewitching effortless football is as efficient as ever, despite two injuries to their very own Edward Elgar, Kevin De Bruyne. Premierships have been decided on fewer than two points, but what is truly startling is that Liverpool are yet to even approach anything near their full capacity and are keeping pace with Manchester City. Last season, Liverpool’s “take-off” only occurred between November and December, and they seem tantalisingly close to another one. Mané and Firmino display flashes of sublime skill but poor decision making in key moments has cost them. However, a natural progression to their standard performance levels and the slow incorporation of Keïta and Fabinho should remedy this, and fortunately for the team, Alisson, Gomez and Van Dijk have steered Liverpool through challenging moments when other players struggled to shine. Now on course to concede only fifteen goals in the league, Liverpool look a far more efficient, determined and professional outfit: Mohamed Salah remains, to some, one of the better players in the league, despite him under-performing relative to his ‘expected goals’, suggesting he will more than likely take-off as the season continues. But it’s now up to one more individual, in the midfield or front line, to stand out, and Liverpool may reach a level which no other Liverpool side in the Premier League has ever done before.
Whilst the term ‘transition season’ is often overused, it does seem to be the perfect way to describe Chelsea’s season so far. Adjusting to life under Maurizio Sarri and his unique brand of football had seemed almost seamless until the disjointed and disappointing performance against Tottenham last time out; and while the defeat did highlight various weaknesses and areas for improvement, it is important not to understate the extent to which Sarri has transformed, and improved, this Chelsea team. Stamford Bridge has witnessed a totally new style of play this season, one that is based on beauty rather than results – a far cry from the side that ended last season with a string of underwhelming performances under Conte. There is, therefore, a lot to be optimistic about, and there is a very convincing case to be made that this side can only get better with time; three months and a hurried preseason has certainly not been long enough for our Italian chain-smoker to fully implement “Sarriball”. There are some gapingly obvious areas for improvement, namely Morata’s ineffectiveness and perceived timidity. And while Giroud represents a far more talented option, capable of holding up the ball and bringing others in to play, he does not embody the goal scoring striker that is needed to sustain a title challenge. The new-look midfield, directed by the pass-master Jorginho, has oozed class all season, but arguably lacks the penetrative box-to-box trait that Stamford Bridge has not seen since Super Frankie Lampard. Antonio Rudiger is fast developing into a world class centre back, and David Luiz, for the most part of the season, has constituted a much-needed composed presence alongside him. Finally, Eden Hazard has shown clear signs that this is to be his best season yet and, were it to be his last, he has proven that the Blues hierarchy would face the unenviable task of replacing the undoubtable best player in the league. In January, an exciting winger with flair will no doubt be targeted, as well as a proven goal-scorer. With both acquisitions, Chelsea would be able to comfortably secure a top four finish, and thereby secure Champions League qualification.
‘Transition’ was very much the buzzword at the beginning of the season for Arsenal. After 22 years of Arsène Wenger, I think it’s fair to say that the entire fan base was keen to see how Unai Emery would go about this new chapter at Arsenal. So far it would be an understatement to say he has done well, especially considering the unbeaten streak stretching back to the August match against Chelsea. The aims at the beginning of the season were simply to get back into the Champions League, through either the Europa league or the tougher challenge of a top four finish. At this stage of the season, though it is very early, a top four finish appears a real possibility. Equally, the personnel Emery uses in all the cup competitions suggest he is really targeting silverware this season. On this showing, I would not be surprised if we end up with a trophy. While there have been so many positives (winning away again being a big one) there is still much to be done; the defence still looks shaky and the front players haven’t quite mastered Emery’s press just yet. However, there is still plenty of time and the transfer windows will no doubt allow Emery to stamp his vision on the team- a solid base that can play quick ball to our electrifying attack.
It has been a disappointing start to the season for Manchester United. Given the strong second place finish last season, I expected us to strengthen our squad further over the summer, so we could compete with the other (smaller) team in Manchester this time round. Our lack of summer activity is now showing: we have a very unstable back four and we can’t seem to get a centre back pairing to click – integral to any title challenge. This key weakness was once Mourinho’s strength, to build from the back and win titles with a solid defensive foundation. We have shown glimpses of quality this season, especially coming from Martial, but not on a regular basis. And it seems we need to be behind in games for our star players to show up. We have the quality players, and I’m not sure whose fault it is, but we are not getting the best out of them. There is a glaring need to start games stronger because deciding to turn up once we are a goal down is unsustainable. Sanchez and Lukaku haven’t delivered to the standard expected of them this season, but that isn’t a big issue, as I know eventually they will perform consistently and justify their hefty price tags and wage bills. In the transfer window we desperately need a centre back – not one that could be the next Sergio Ramos in three years, one that has experience and is the finished product now. However, I see that being an issue given the rarity of a club selling their star players in the January transfer window, even rarer now we are an appealing club for world class talent.