Heading into the 2014/2015 English Premier League season most pundits were in agreement it would be a two horse race between Chelsea and Manchester City for the title and thus far they have been proven correct. However, there were varying opinions about which two other clubs would join them in next season’s Champions League. The normal contenders have had a shaky start, but how far off the pace are they and is this the year an unsuspecting contender pulls off a shock to steal that coveted fourth Champions League spot?
Manchester United missed out on Champions League football this year for the first time since the 1995/1996 season. With the all the recent upheaval at Old Trafford the normal Champions League order was disrupted as Liverpool also forced their way back into the competition. The Red Devils have broken the bank in an attempt to return to glory under newly appointed manager Louis Van Gaal, while their rivals from Merseyside have reinvested in their squad after the departure of the talismanic Luis Suarez to Barcelona.
Everton made an admirable run under first year manager Roberto Martinez last season, but fell just short of fourth place after slipping up late in April. Tottenham splashed the Gareth Bale money around to little effect as neither Andre Villas Boas nor Tim Sherwood could lead Spurs back to Europe’s premier club competition. Everton has retained all of the key players from last year’s squad, while Mauricio Pochettino continues to search for the perfect combination to bring success to White Heart Lane.
Arsenal are one of the more entertaining clubs in the English Premier League. Huge expectations followed by a period of disappointing results, while then finishing in a flurry to claim a top four spot has their fans riding a redundant roller coaster of emotions year after year. Because of the up and down nature of this club, they will inevitably find themselves in the mix to miss out on a Champions League place at some point in the season despite an unbeaten start to the campaign.
One team no one thought would be mentioned in the same breath as the top four at any point in the season would be Southampton. The mass exodus of their main men to Merseyside left the Saints favorites for relegation in some circles. However, Ronald Koeman has spent well bringing in players such as Ryan Bertrand, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic who have immediately led Southampton up the table.
The Story So Far
To judge just how far some teams have slipped off the pace, or how far ahead of the curve they may be in Southampton’s case, we’ll compare results from games played so far this season with the corresponding fixture from last year. For example, Manchester United lost to Swansea at Old Trafford on opening day , but defeated the Swans in the corresponding fixture last season. This would put Manchester United three points off the pace they were on last season. When examining results against the newly promoted clubs, we’ll compare them against the team that was relegated in the same order they came up (Leicester City=Norwich City, Burnley=Fulham and QPR=Cardiff City).
While Tottenham will be disappointed with losing to West Brom at home and dropping points to Sunderland at The Stadium of Light, they can be encouraged by the fact they are actually one point ahead of the pace they set last season. While that pace was not good enough for Champions League football, continued improvement throughout the season could see them in the mix come May. On the other hand, Everton have played a difficult early season schedule, but already find themselves disappointingly two points off track.
The biggest shock in reviewing these figures has to be Manchester United. The Red Devils were gifted a very light schedule to start the season playing all three newly promoted teams within the first five weeks. However, they have made an absolute mess of it as they are shockingly 10 points off the pace when comparing last season’s corresponding fixtures. This has to be very worrying to Louis Van Gaal and company as they were a full 15 points away from fourth place Arsenal at the end of the previous campaign.
Arsenal and Liverpool both claimed spots in the top four last season, but have fallen off the pace in the early going this year. The Gunners have played a tough early schedule and find themselves in fourth place at the moment, the same spot they finished in last season. Liverpool have to feel as though they have missed an early opportunity to put some space between themselves and the other contenders for the top four, namely Manchester United and Everton. While they only find themselves three points off the pace compared to last season’s corresponding fixtures, they are sitting on only seven points.
Southampton have been the clear darlings of the first six weeks of the English Premier League season. Digging a little deeper into their results we see they’ve had an easy run of games and fared almost equally as well in these exact fixtures last season. The Saints sputtered as the campaign progressed last season so they will have to keep up their blistering pace if they hope to finish above the eighth place mark they achieved last year.
What it All Means
The excitement of early season Premier League football sees many pundits writing teams off before October and equally crowning others as contenders only to see them inevitably end up in mid table mediocrity. It’s clear Manchester United has already dug themselves a very deep hole, which even the likes of Falcao and Di Maria may not be able to dig them out of, even with 32 more games to go. On the other hand, the Liverpool faithful may not want to panic just yet, but they will need to rediscover the form they enjoyed last year soon or it could be a short stay among Europe’s elite for the Reds. Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal have all had mixed results. While Arsenal have a little room to drop points, Everton and Tottenham will need to perform better against the other top six teams to have a chance at breaking into the top four come May. Meanwhile, Southampton’s impressive start will need to continue against tougher opposition if they wish to ride this momentum into a season long assault on the Premier League. It’s important not to read too much into these early season results, but they can go a long way in marking the progress of your favorite club as the season progresses.