Although not strictly accurate, Christmas marks the traditional halfway point of the Premier League season. And, in recent years, being atop the table on Dec. 25 has proved a reliable predictor for which team will be lifting the Premier League trophy come May. Indeed, in five of the last six seasons, the club leading the way when Christmas rolls around have gone on to become champions.
Leicester City will be hoping that strong trend continues. In the 24-year history of the Premier League, there has arguably never been such a surprising leader this late into the season. You have to go all the way back to 2001 to find the last time a team outside the traditional top four of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as new giants Manchester City were No.1 at this point. Back then it was Newcastle United, who would wind up finishing fourth.
Given the increased role played by finances in the Premier League, and the fact that Leicester were battling relegation just last season, the achievements of Claudio Ranieri’s side are even more impressive. Still, few outside of Leicester believe they will stay there too much longer. Here’s a look how this most unpredictable of title races stands and what could lie ahead.
1. Leicester City -- 38 Pts, Betting Odds (provided by Oddschecker): 10/1
Leicester’s surge to the top of the Premier League has been unlike anything seen in Premier League history. Attacking with pace and purpose, Ranieri’s team have been led by the 15 goals of the division’s top scorer Jamie Vardy as well as brilliant Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, who sits second on the league’s goals and assists table. It has, though, been a real team effort that has fueled their success. Yet, despite taking a two-point advantage into Christmas, it is difficult to imagine them staying there. Leicester have done remarkably well to be there this long, but it is generally around Christmas and January when clubs exceeding expectations tend to feel the strain on a thin squad. Still, a fairytale place in the Champions League looks to be well within their reach.
2. Arsenal -- 36 points, Odds: Even
Arsenal’s victory over Manchester City in the last Premier League game before Christmas may not have put them on top, but it has made them favorites to lift their first title in 12 years. There can be no denying that, with the struggles faced by Chelsea and Manchester United, this represents Arsenal’s best chance to end their long title drought since they last led the league at this point, in 2007. While some doubts over the balance of the side and their frequent injuries should still remain, with Mesut Özil in sublime form, they could well be good enough to go all the way.
3. Manchester City -- 32 points, Odds: 15/8
Monday’s defeat to Arsenal fully illustrated the frustration at watching Manchester City. For 30 minutes they looked comfortable, but upon going behind they simply crumbled, showing the lack of backbone that is so frequently apparent, especially in the absence of Vincent Kompany. And then there was a thrilling example of what City can produce when Yaya Toure suddenly clicked into gear and scored a magnificent goal. City have the best squad in the Premier League and when they are good they look like the best team in the division. Their hopes of landing a third title in five seasons will rest on whether they can keep their key players fit and find some much-needed consistency.
4. Tottenham -- 29 points, Odds: 16/1
A lack of consistency and steel is a criticism that has frequently been directed at Tottenham in recent years, but under Mauricio Pochettino they appear to have shaken off those concerns. In his second season in charge, the former Southampton manager has a squad of talented young players willing to follow his instructions. The future certainly looks bright at White Hart Lane, and if Spurs had just converted a few of their league-leading eight draws into victories they might even be thinking more seriously about a championship challenge this season. While that may prove out of reach, the main goal of earning a top-four place is a real possibility.
5. Manchester United -- 29 points, Odds: 16/1
The intrigue at Manchester United this season concerned whether the drab performances would catch up to the results that at one stage had them top of the Premier League, or vice versa. Unfortunately for Louis van Gaal it’s been the latter. United have now lost three matches on the bounce in all competitions and not won in their last six outings. If reports are to be believed, Van Gaal could soon pay with his job. While there may be some benefit to a change of manager and releasing the handbrake Van Gaal has placed on the team, the main problem remains that, despite spending huge sums in the transfer market, the 20-times champions remain short of world-class talent, especially in the attacking third. They now face a real battle to get into the Champions League.
9. Liverpool -- 24 points, Odds: 40/1
With all due respect to Crystal Palace, Watford and West Ham, all of whom sit above Liverpool in the table, the Merseysiders are the last team that the oddsmakers think have any realistic chance of landing the title. And even that is a fanciful proposal. Manager Jurgen Klopp has repeatedly insisted that his new side are not in the title race. And, although a few weeks ago that appeared to be simply a case of downplaying expectations in public, recent results have shown that his remarks may well have been a case of the charismatic German simply stating reality. A run of one point from three matches has left Liverpool surely too far off the pace, but they should improve in the second half of the season and challenge for the top four.