Football fans from around the Gulf are sure to be glued to their television sets and internet connections over the coming five months as the English Premier League passed the halfway point on New Year’s and has now completed 20 rounds of matches, with six teams battling it out for the crown.
Leading the way are Chelsea (49 points), followed by Liverpool (44), Tottenham Hotspur (42), Manchester City (42), Arsenal (41) and Manchester United (39). The last round of matches before the FA Cup break saw Liverpool drop points after a 2-2 draw against Sunderland, Man City edged out Burnley 2-1 and Man Utd were 2-0 winners against West Ham United, while Arsenal were held to an amazing 3-3 draw away to Bournemouth and Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-0. The defeat for Chelsea courtesy of two headed Deli Alli goals ended a 13-game winning streak and the chance to equal Arsenal’s record breaking 14-game streak set in seasons 2001-02 and overlapping to 2002-03 in the top-flight.
Chelsea after its incredible run presently (after a sluggish start) to the season only need a slip up once or twice more and the chasing pack will all be in the mix, with four Champions League places up for grabs. After a disappointing season 2015-16 when as defending champion Chelsea finished 10th, the appointment in the summer of Italian Antonio Conte as manager has transformed the team, notably evident is the form of Brazil-born Spanish international Diego Costa who leads the scoring charts with 14 goals and five assists, Belgian Eden Hazard (9 goals) has also rediscovered his scoring touch and his compatriot and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has 11 clean sheets already this season.
Nearest contenders Liverpool under their German manager Jurgen Klopp are a much improved team from last season and free-scoring with 48 goals so far and topping the scoring charts. Sadio Mane the Senegal international signed in the summer has been inspirational and is the leading scorer with nine goals and four assists, though he is now absent due to the African Nations Cup, Liverpool have Brazilian international Phillipe Coutinho coming back from injury and England’s Adam Lallana is also a different player under Klopp after knocking in seven goals and seven assists this season.
If The Reds can iron out its defensive issues after its recent 4-3 loss to Bournemouth, come the end of the season and a bit of luck they could win their first title since 1990. Manchester City a favourite with fans in the UAE and particularly Abu Dhabi also recruited a new manager in the summer in the shape of Spaniard Pep Guardiola. They are still very much in the mix despite recent losses to Liverpool (0-1) and defending champions Leicester City (2-4) and will rely on Argentine Sergio Aguero (11) for the goals despite serving a recent four-match suspension and Dutchman Kevin De Bruyne who leads the most assists with nine.
Frenchman Arsene Wenger at the helm at Arsenal for 20 years is under pressure to deliver a first title since 2004 and after an unbeaten run since losing to Liverpool in the opening game of the season, they suffered a couple of hiccups in December losing 2-1 to both Everton and Man City. A few players have stood out this season with Chilean Alexis Sanchez notching 13 goals and seven assists, while England’s Theo Walcott has knocked in eight goals and goalkeeper Petr Cech has kept six clean sheets.
Man United under Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (appointed in the summer) didn’t begin the season particularly well, but are on an 11 match unbeaten streak including six consecutive wins, inspired by the form of 35-year old retired Swedish International with 13 goals and three assists, with Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea maintaining fine form with seven clean sheets so far. Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino of Argentina have kept its good form of last season and are on a five-game winning streak, this is thanks to the fine form of England internationals Harry Kane with 10 goals and a couple of assists and Dele Alli knocking in ten himself.
Following the success against Chelsea, the pair have scored more than half of the team goals by the team this season. With the second half of the season underway, the ‘Big Six’ are way ahead of Everton (30) in seventh and West Bromwich Albion (29) in eighth with 14 matches still to be played between the ‘Elite’, so teams are bound to drop points and league positions will change. It should be a fascinating run-in to the season with four of the big matches in April and two in May