As 2008 drew to a close during the customary hectic festive schedule the Barclays Premier League season reached its half-way mark. For the rest of the season in 2009, the English Premiership looks to be shaping up to be one of the most enthralling campaigns yet.
We are in the exceptional state where not one position in the table can be said to be already decided at this stage, and this is what is making the competition so exciting. The bottom team in the league, West Bromwich Albion, are hardly cut adrift from the competition, a state of affairs often seen by this time (ie Watford and Derby County the past two seasons!). The range of points, from Liverpool at the top with 46 to bottom club West Bromwich Albion’s 18, is a demonstration of the tightness of the Premiership at this relatively advanced stage point.
It is also fair to say that no team up to Hull City, currently lying in 8th with 27 points, can feel safe from relegation. For example, Middlesbrough were in decent form when they went to Goodison Park to play Everton and came away with a creditable 1-1 draw back in late November. But since that result they have earned 2 points in the Premiership and are now languishing in 16th, 1 point above the relegation zone; they have fallen from a safe ‘upper mid-table’ position to the relegation zone in the space of just over a month.
With the tightness of this season’s league in mind, the points totals required to survive, but more interestingly, indeed win the title could be the lowest in recent history. Using the half-way mark points totals to project an end of season estimate, the winners of this year’s Premiership could win the title with something around 82 to 85 points; this type of winning total has not been seen since the 2002-03 season when Manchester United won their 8th Premier League title with 83. Ever since that season three teams have dominated the top spot. In 2003-04, Arsenal’s Unbeatables amassed 90 points, Chelsea’s successive titles were won with 95 and 91 before Manchester United regained the title with 89 and then defended it last season with a total of 87. It seems even more apparent that the ability to beat the so-called ‘lesser’ sides will be critical to a title victory when many of the top teams are dropping points in these instances.
One of the true success stories that 2008 has created for us is that of Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa. There are few other more exciting, honest and energetic teams in the Premiership this season, and their success is truly warranted. Whether they will be able to topple Arsenal (or even Chelsea, for that matter, in the form they are in) in the race for fourth is debatable. But they have so far sustained a level of performance that deserves to be in the top four; they have scored as many goals as top-placed Liverpool and have only lost one of their five matches against the ‘Big Four’ so far. Their squad-depth is their major weakness, but then again if their first eleven is delivering then O’Neill will not be too busy addressing that issue just yet…
The January transfer window is still wide open and if any of the Premiership’s credit-crunched chairmen decide to give the green-light to any deals, then in this highly condensed and enthralling season, that could be the telling point between triumph and dismay come the Spring.
All league positions and points totals subject to change after fixtures of the 17th to the 19th of January.