We still have nine games to play in the Premier League and some twists and turns to come, be they on or off the field. But a few matters have already been settled, and some of them rather surprising.
Did anyone think Liverpool, in the face of a challenge from reigning champions Manchester City, would be within two wins of a title, with a quarter of the season remaining? And what of Sheffield United? After two promotions in three years, surely the brutality of the Premier League would be too much for the Blades, but they have been sharper than we all expected.
Here are the five teams which have caught this SBOTOP writer by surprise so far this season.
Expected: Another ding dong battle with Manchester City
Reality: A 25 point lead with nine games remaining
Head coach Jurgen Klopp has responded brilliantly to the challenge put down by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, who has guided the Sky Blues to back-to-back league titles. Last season they traded blow for blow right up to the very last game before City won the title by a single point, with Liverpool on a massive 97 points, 25 ahead of third-placed Chelsea.
But this season Liverpool have left City trailing by 25 points, with a phenomenal record of 27 wins, one draw and one defeat, a record achievement across Europe. They are on track to smash through the 100 point barrier and that would be some achievement.
Sheffield United (7th)
Expected: Relegation nailed on
Reality: Genuine Europa League contenders
At the beginning of the season, the Premier League 2020 prediction had Norwich City and Sheffield United as the two newcomers with the biggest challenge to stay in the top flight, and Aston Villa the most likely to survive. But the Blades have been in the top half of the table from the off, while the Canaries are joined by Villa in the bottom two. Backed by Saudi Prince Abdullah since 2013 and managed by the pugnacious Chris Wilder Sheffield United have shown they are a match for anyone.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson has excelled on loan at Bramall Lane, playing in 27 games and registering ten clean sheets to put him in contention for a Euro 2021 place. The 23-year old has impressed Gareth Southgate and might well make his way back to Old Trafford, though Blades fans would love to see him stay.
Expected: A transition period
Reality: Top Four all season
Blues head coach Frank Lampard was met by a transfer ban when he returned to Stamford Bridge and fans and pundits alike gave the Chelsea legend time to see through a transition. But his young players have excelled and have occupied a top-four place from the early stages. Midfield ace Mason Mount was with Lampard at Derby last season and he’s proved to be a real asset in the Premier League at 21.
20-year-old full-back Reece James has grown in confidence while, at 22, Tammy Abraham was leading the scoring charts before he suffered an injury, and he has 13 goals to his name.
The real gem could turn out to be the 18-year-old Billy Gilmour, at 5ft 6in he’s a pocket dynamo and already a fans favourite. But as the finish line came into view Lampard brought Olivier Giroud back into the fold after the Frenchman had largely been ignored, and he’s responded like the class player he is, scoring twice in the last three league games
Tottenham Hotspur (8th)
Expected: Champions League place
Reality: Upper mid-table finish likely
When I looked at the underachieving big clubs I could have gone for either of the North London giants, but Arsenal seem to be picking their form up while Spurs are falling away. Injuries to Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son have seriously damaged Spurs’ momentum. The Whites’ Premier League 2020 results have been woeful of late, and they have drawn two and lost four of the last six in all competitions, including being dumped out of the Champions League by Red Bull Leipzig.
There is some good news for Spurs fans though; Kane is nearing a full return to training.
West Ham United (16th)
Expected: Exciting football and a Europa League push
Reality: Relegation scrap
With Norwich City looking in deep trouble, five teams are trying to avoid the remaining two relegation slots. Brighton are on the slide with 29 points and then the Hammers are grouped on 27 points with Watford and Bournemouth, with Aston Villa two points back with a game in hand.
West Ham began the season with Premier League winner Manuel Pellegrini at the helm, but despite a big summer spend on the likes of Sebastien Haller and Pablo Fornals, and the increasing influence of England star Declan Rice, the Hammers simply haven’t delivered.
West Ham vice-chairman Karen Brady has called for the Premier League season to be scrapped, after the return of former boss David Moyes has failed to provide the upturn expected.
Well, she would, wouldn’t she?!
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