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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The best preparation for business school from Harvard Business School

Get ready for your MBA, wherever you are going.

Getting accepted to a top-tier B-school seems like an achievement, which it is, but it’s only the beginning. The real grind comes after, once the program has begun. The very aspects that make an MBA education so valuable – high caliber classmates, a variety of business subjects, highly skilled and demanding professors, massive amounts of learning – also make it challenging. Additionally, the pace of learning can seem daunting. A preparatory course that teaches the fundamentals of business can alleviate the pressure and set students up for success. It can also help students make the most of their time at B-school, learning from all stimuli rather than struggling to catch up with the basics.

CORe (Credential of Readiness), a program offered by HBX, the online learning platform of Harvard Business School (HBS), does exactly this. CORe offers a comprehensive portfolio of essential preparatory courses in Accounting, Analytics, and Economics – grounded in real world problem solving and delivered via a highly-engaging online platform, to make business school aspirants ‘MBA-ready’.

Is it for you? 

Entrants to MBA programs come from diverse educational backgrounds and work experience. The difference between what an engineer, doctor, lawyer, commerce graduate, humanities graduate or chartered accountant studies is huge. Yet, in B-school, they are taught in one class and compete on the same turf. The CORe program is for students / professionals who may have never learned, or don’t feel at home with, business fundamentals. It is also valuable for people who have studied business but perhaps need a refresher before stepping back into a classroom environment.

Designed as a primer, CORe integrates the essential aspects of business thinking into three courses – ‘Business Analytics’, ‘Economics for Managers’ and ‘Financial Accounting’. These are the three classes that Harvard Business School faculty determined were essential to success in an MBA program and in the business world. Business Analytics, for example, trains students in quantitative methods used to analyze data. This is especially useful for students from humanities courses or professional courses that had limited application of mathematics, statistics and quantitative concepts. Delving into areas such as describing and summarizing data, sampling and estimation, hypothesis testing and regression, it initiates students into the MBA mode of applying mathematical and statistical principles to understanding and solving real life business situations.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

Economics is the foundation of several business aspects such as customer demand, supplier cost, pricing, market dynamics, and competition. Through the Economics for Managers course, students learn to not only understand economic principles, but also use economics as a way of thinking and decision-making, in the context of business. Prof. Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX says, “We want to have you see and appreciate where and how companies get it right, where they use economic logic in powerful ways, and where they can sometimes fall into decision-making traps. This is a course that we, at HBS, want every one of our students to master before they enter our MBA program.”

The third course, Financial Accounting, is designed for students who do not have a business or accounting background. It teaches financial accounting, the backbone of all businesses, from the ground up. Students need a strong understanding of financial statements even for subjects such as Operations Management and Strategy. Since the course is taught through the case-based method with real business scenarios rather than plain theory, it can be a real eye-opener. Says Amita Metkari, Mechanical Engineer, looking to pursue an MBA, “The CORe platform is riveting. Cogent design and presentation of the platform has helped me get over my bias of subjects like accounting being dull, so much so that reading articles online about a company’s cash flow statements or analyzing a balance sheet has become my happiness fix.”

The HBS teaching method using a powerful virtual learning platform  

HBX blends the tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of technology to offer immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive virtual learning platform. What makes it fun and effective is that the platform and the courses are designed for real-world problem-solving, active learning, and social learning.

Real-world business scenarios are posed to students to solve, and they learn the theory inductively. Students have real profiles and get to know their classmates, as the platform enables peer-to-peer networking and collaborative learning. Frequent reflections and interactive activities necessitate attentiveness and encourage knowledge sharing and active discussion between students. While HBX courses are self-paced; participants are required to meet weekly deadlines. This helps keep the cohort, a class of typically 300 students, on track and supports the social elements of the learning experience.

Play

CORe is offered throughout the year with durations ranging from 8 to 17 weeks. Each program length teaches the same content, but allows students to choose the time intensity that suits them. Applicants can also choose cohorts that provide the credit option of CORe, which will earn them eight undergraduate credits from Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School. Upon successful completion of the program, including passing an in-person final exam, students receive a Credential of Readiness from HBX and Harvard Business School. Students may also receive an official-grade transcript, and are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty, and experience the HBS campus near Cambridge. Applicants to Harvard Business School can include CORe course credential in the application, but this will be considered in the larger context of a holistic selection process.

Interested candidates submit a free, 10-15-minute application by the deadlines noted on the HBX website. For more information and frequently asked questions, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.