After the round of Premier League games at the weekend, the title race has become even more interesting as we head into February. Chelsea’s win at Manchester City on Monday night was a massive one. Jose Mourinho was able to mastermind a win against a side who were not only unbeaten at home, but had won every game. The loss will not do much to Manchester City’s confidence, but it could give Chelsea’s players the belief that they can take the upper hand in the title fight. Mourinho has played down his sides chances, but there is no doubt that they are more than capable of winning the league. Arsenal are now coming into a period of fixtures against the top eight. Chelsea’s fixture list is a bit more forgiving in the next few games, so they could push on.
What is clear is that the three title challengers have three very different approaches to football that have helped them along the way this season. Arsenal’s possession based football has allowed them to beat the smaller teams, but has not been as effective in the big games. Chelsea’s high energy counter-attacking game has seen them thrive against other members of the top four, but come unstuck in the smaller games where they maybe have had less motivation. Manchester City’s approach has been “we’ll score more than you”, and but for a few defensive problems earlier in the season, it has been very successful.
So how will these approaches aid in each teams’ title push. There is no doubt that Arsenal’s will allow them to continue to gain points against the smaller teams. The Gunners’ record against the teams outside the top eight has been fantastic. They have only dropped points at West Brom and Southampton, beating every other side they have faced. This could eventually be their undoing. Arsenal’s possession-based play has not done well against the bigger teams. In particular, they struggled to break down Chelsea and Manchester United. Their style of play also left them open to the very attacking play of Manchester City. However, with the return games against two of these three opponents at home, they will be slightly more confident going into the return fixtures.
Chelsea’s play this season has evolved into a high energy based pressing game. This style of play has been highlighted by the fact Juan Mata was dropped for the most part of the season and eventually allowed to leave for Manchester United. In recent months Willian has become an excellent fit in the system, complimenting Hazard and Oscar with his high work rate. With Chelsea’s game so heavily based on counter attacks, they have been formidable against the big teams in the league. The 0-0 draw with West Ham at home highlighted the systems floors. With West Ham content to sit back, Chelsea were unable to break them down in part due to the way they prefer to play. Chelsea’s defeats this season have come to Stoke City, Newcastle United and Everton. They have dropped points at home to West Brom and West Ham, both teams they would be expected to beat. If they are able to win against most of the smaller teams, they will have a great chance.
Manchester City’s approach has been extremely attack-focused. Before the Chelsea game, their home record showed how attacking they have been scoring 42 goals in 10 games. The selection of Aleksander Kolarov against Chelsea highlighted the attacking nature City have shown at home. Kolarov and David Silva were exposed on the left against Chelsea as both were often caught too high up the pitch. This problem was highlighted by the quality of Chelsea’s attacking players on the counter attack, eventually leading to Branislav Ivanovic’s goal. Luckily for City, no other team they have left to face at home in the Premier League will have as much quality going forward on the counter attack. Although they lost to Chelsea, they will very much still be seen as favourites due to their strength in depth and ability to score goals. In the tighter games, City will have to ensure that they are not as susceptible on the counter attack as they were on Monday.
There is no doubt that this Premier League season has been the most interesting in many years. The three differing approaches of the title challengers has made it even more so. Wherever the title ends up, it will be interesting for the neutral as it unfolds.