Premier League

The Premier League's six-way battle for the title sets up a dramatic second half of the season

In the middle of January, only 10 points separate Chelsea at the top and Manchester United at sixth.

January hasn’t been kind so far to Chelsea Football Club. The Premier League’s form team and previously runaway leaders were on a 13-game winning run, a record that cannot be overstated given the immense competition for places in the league and Chelsea’s own catastrophic start. However, London neighbours Tottenham, under Mauricio Pochettino, are more than just the pushovers they have been for most of the new century, and they had no interest in adding their name to Chelsea’s record books. A swift return to Earth followed for Antonio Conte and his men as they lost to two Delle Alli headers.

And then the January transfer window and the newly minted Chinese super clubs happened.

Poor spunky, self-sustaining Chelsea. Success against all odds and on a shoestring budget has come at a price for the London outfit, with big, bad, disruptive China training their money on their club-honed and nurtured stars. Club legend John Obi Mikel had his head turned after 10 years with the club, the Brazilian Oscar threw away the chance to stay and compete for the Premier League title, and now the catalyst for their strong showing this season, Diego Costa, is eyeing money enough to satisfy all retirement plans.

While the irony of Chelsea complaining about the influence of sugar daddies and money in the sport in palpable, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the club would be severely impacted if the want-away Costa did leave. A bust-up at the training ground with Conte and the club fitness coach over a supposed phantom niggle might have hastened the process, with Conte refusing to include him in the squad to face Leicester on the weekend.

All this is music to the ears of Messrs Klopp, Guardiola, Pochettino, Mourinho and Wenger, as they’ve been reduced to silent observers as the Chelsea juggernaut rolled on. They and their players must have been praying for a slip or three from Chelsea, as it was looking like the daylight between them and the leaders might prove insurmountable before long. And suddenly, most, if not all, are right back in with a chance.

In the middle of January, 10 points separate the club at the top to the one at sixth, and suddenly the five-point gap between toppers Chelsea and Liverpool at second looks easier to make up.

Key strengths for the challengers

Chelsea and Manchester United, at the two ends of the top-six table, have been obdurate in defence and relatively stingy with the goals this season. Conte revolutionised Chelsea’s tactical system by making them play with three at the back and that move proved to be the key factor for their resurgence. Costa with 14 goals has been the standout attacker, with Hazard chipping in as usual.

At United, Mourinho has been impressive in his focus on defence and the old warhorse Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proved quite a few doubters wrong with an impressive 13-goal haul already. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has grabbed the opportunities provided to him with both feet and has proved his credentials to an initially sceptical manager. Mourinho himself looks like he’s enjoying the sport again, although he will be hoping the rest of his team can discover their scoring edge.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are the strongest challengers to Chelsea's early surge (Image credit: Reuters)
Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are the strongest challengers to Chelsea's early surge (Image credit: Reuters)

Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and, in particular, Liverpoool, have had an excellent season. Liverpool have scored 48 goals this season, playing some scintillating football along the way. Adam Lallana has provided the star turn for the Merseysiders, with his excellent runs into the box and great technical ability fashioning chances and goals seemingly at will. Sadio Mane’s departure for the African Cup of Nations will leave a big slot to fill, although Philippe Coutinho’s imminent return should soften that blow.

Manchester City have had a chastening time in the league with some consistent runs followed by massive downs. Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne would light up any side in world football. Their experience and ability will help City as they step up their challenge in the league and Europe.

Arsenal and Tottenham are locked in an interminable battle for North-London supremacy, but each will have their sights on a solid title challenge as well, backed by an impressive attacking line-up.

Weaknesses abound

Chelsea, seemingly with little or no weakness after Conte’s restructuring, will have fresh doubts placed in their minds. Their depth in the strikers position isn’t outstanding, and the 3-4-3 formation isn’t impenetrable, as Tottenham have proved.

Liverpool’s defence remains their biggest liability, with uncertainty starting from the goalkeeper’s position. Mane’s absence could remove some of the sting from their counter-attacks as well.

Manchester City have had an up-and-down season so far, as Guardiola still adjusts to a frantic, high-pitched battlefield. Disciplinary issues have been troublesome, and with captain Vincent Kompany’s playing future up in the air due to injury setbacks, the first-choice centre-backs inspire no confidence as such.

Will Arsenal and Tottenham rise above the battle of North London? (Image credit: Reuters)
Will Arsenal and Tottenham rise above the battle of North London? (Image credit: Reuters)

Spurs have the experience of having challenged for the title last season, although they also have the experience of wilting under pressure from then. Pochettino will goad his men to produce that much extra effort this season to prevent a sequel.

Arsenal’s weaknesses remain in their mind. Having led against City and Everton in the recent past, they conspired to completely capitulate and lose against both. No clean sheets for long stretches will be a cause for concern as well.

United will continue to chip away, but a lot depends on young Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial producing the goods up front. There is a sense that they might be a confidence team, which wouldn’t augur well for tougher tests ahead.

No Europe could be the deciding factor

Manchester City and Arsenal are currently set to face Monaco and Bayern Munich in the round of 16 of the Champions League, while Thursday nights beckon for Tottenham and Manchester City. With little or no distraction for Chelsea and Liverpool, they seem best placed to take their title challenge forward.

Arsenal have historically dropped off towards the business end of the season, and might do so around February, while United’s challenge is entirely dependent on them keeping a genuinely excellent run going for almost the entire season hence. A slip-up or two could mean curtains. Manchester City look too disjointed to pose a credible threat on both fronts, and Europe could prove to be their undoing.

There are multiple twists and turns yet in a Premier League which has seen the moneyed clubs back in the thick of it this season. Experience, consistency at the back and the density of the playing schedules will be key factors.

The Premier League six-shooter is ready to fire in the remainder of the season.

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Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

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Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

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