The title race is wide open and a league-record nine teams have held top spot this season – but how do each of the contenders fare?

Liverpool had racked up 55 points after 19 games last season – topping the table with a 13-point lead and a game in hand. Fast forward to this season and Manchester City lead the way on 41 points from the same number of games.

That equates to a 25-per-cent drop-off and the 13-point divide between first and second last season now spans between first and 12th.

The title race is truly on as we enter the post-festive home straight in one of the closest and most complex seasons in history, with pandemic disruptions wreaking havoc on fixture pile-ups and, it seems, the status quo.

As its stands, only eight points divide City and seventh-placed Everton, and the Toffees themselves have one game in hand over Pep Guardiola’s side. The window of opportunity has never been wider.

Here, we provide an overview of the main contenders’ key stats, strengths and weaknesses…

Sky Bet title odds

  • Man City: 2/7
  • Liverpool: 11/2
  • Man Utd: 12/1
  • Leicester: 22/1
  • Tottenham: 40/1
  • Everton: 150/1

Man City

Position: 1st
Games played: 19
PPG: 2.16 (#1)


Saturday 30th January 2:30pm


Kick off 3:00pm

Overview

Pep Guardiola’s side were languishing in sixth spot with just five wins from 12 games in mid-December but have gone on an 11-game win streak in all competitions since beating Southampton last month. The 5-0 win at West Brom epitomises their current trajectory: maintaining defensive solidity and rekindling their customary firepower.

Star player: Kevin De Bruyne

Last season’s PFA Player of the Year went off the boil during the early stages of this campaign but he provided glimpses of returning to top form before being sidelined for the next five or six games with a hamstring injury this week.

One reason why City have emerged as title favourites is the sheer number of players in talismanic form, including Joao Cancelo, Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, John Stones and Ruben Dias.

GRAPHIC
Image:
Kevin De Bruyne has assisted 10 goals in the Premier League this season – behind only Harry Kane (11)

Strengths

The strengths span almost every metric, from the defence to the attack. Arguably, City have the strongest and deepest squad in the division, weaved with youth and experience. Advanced Opta data suggests City play the highest defensive line and execute this effectively by winning a league-topping number of high turnovers with their press.

Weaknesses

For most clubs, having De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero sidelined would be enough to derail a title challenge. But City continue to improve without them. All signs suggest Guardiola’s side have found their groove at the right time.

However, winning the Champions League remains their elusive goal and could take precedence over domestic duties, while progress in the FA Cup and a Carabao Cup final in April means the quadruple is on – but also poses potential for serious fixture congestion.

GRAPHIC
Image:
Manchester City could still face another 31 games in 106 days if they reach the Champions League and FA Cup finals

Man Utd

Position: 2nd
Games played: 20
PPG: 2.00 (#2)


Saturday 30th January 5:00pm


Kick off 5:30pm

Overview

While City may have had a slow start, the red side of Manchester kicked off in disastrous fashion with three defeats, a draw and only two wins in their opening six league games.

United were undefeated since early November before the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United – winning 10 of their 13 fixtures – and soared to the Premier League summit for the first time after New Year’s Day during a season since 2013.

Star player: Bruno Fernandes

The Portugal international recently reached his one-year anniversary at Old Trafford and appears to have been the catalyst in the club’s reversal in form during that time.

But Marcus Rashford has also hit a new level this season to boost firepower, while Edinson Cavani is increasingly using his experience to conduct the forward line and Paul Pogba is being deployed effectively in a variety of roles.

Bruno Fernandes has attempted 123 long passes in the Premier League this season - only Harry Maguire (164) and David de Gea (137) have attempted more at the club this term
Image:
Bruno Fernandes has attempted 123 long passes in the Premier League this season – only Harry Maguire (164) and David de Gea (137) have attempted more at the club this term

Strengths

Many consider United’s lofty position disproportional to their worthy standing. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side certainly deserve to be among the elite. His side rank among the top two for goals scored and shots on target, while asserting defensive solidity by winning a league-high number of recoveries in their defensive third – in addition to ranking second in the middle third.

In addition, the counter-attack style is exciting and connected with the brand of football associated with the club, with pacy wingers feeding off long and through balls from creative midfielders, such as Fernandes and Paul Pogba.

Weaknesses

United have certainly been the comeback kings to date, winning a staggering 21 points from losing positions – 11 more than any other team. But coming from behind is a laborious task and, as was the case in the defeat to Sheffield United, not always a surmountable one.

Leicester

Position: 3rd
Games played: 20
PPG: 1.95 (#3)


Sunday 31st January 1:00pm


Kick off 2:00pm

Overview

Leicester appear to be the masters of slender advantages and converting limited chances. The graphic below reveals how their current form has actually improved in recent weeks and coincided with James Maddison’s return to fitness.

The miracle of 2016 is still fresh in the memory for many but Brendan Rodgers’ current squad appears to be stronger and deeper than that miraculous title-winning side. The underdogs could pack another punch against the ‘big six’ heavyweights come May.

Star player: James Maddison

Maddison would arguably edge this award to date, despite having limited game time until late November due to injuries, having hit top form in recent weeks – scoring three goals in his past four games. However, he still has room for improvement when it comes to rekindling his golden touch at creating chances for team-mates.

England team-mate Harvey Barnes has also shone for the Foxes and Jamie Vardy remains as lethal as ever in front of goal, while Wesley Fofana, Youri Tielemans and James Justin have also impressed.

Strengths

One notable anomaly among the many this season has been the league-high 10 penalties awarded to Leicester – four more than any other team. Many of these can be attributed to Jamie Vardy’s movement across defenders when running onto through balls.

But Leicester reap serious success from a relatively low tally of shots and that, again, is boosted by Vardy’s clinical finishing. Indeed, the Foxes rank top for shot conversion.

Weaknesses

Realistically, the gulf between chances created and returns needs to be reduced if another title tilt can be maintained. The good news is that Maddison has consistently ranked among the league’s elite for creation since joining the club and Rodgers will be hoping that trait rebounds to match his current goal streak sooner than later.

Liverpool

Position: 4th
Games played: 20
PPG: 1.85 (#4)


Sunday 31st January 4:00pm


Kick off 4:30pm

Overview

Liverpool’s form chart appears to resemble the inverted version of main rivals Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp’s side began to stutter after their shock 7-2 defeat against Aston Villa in October, an event later dubbed ‘Silly Sunday’.

Indeed, the unpredictable nature of this season’s campaign can provide one of the few answers to why Liverpool’s famed front three had lost their edge so abruptly before the 3-1 win over Spurs. The champions had gone five league games without a win.

Star player: Mohamed Salah

The Egypt international has scored a league-topping 13 goals and has continued to find the back of the net, albeit with diminished returns, during the team’s recent collapse in form.

Counterpart winger Sadio Mane has also stood out but injuries have taken their toll and the next-best regular performers during the campaign to date would probably be ‘keeper Alisson and left-back Andy Robertson.

GRAPHIC
Image:
Mohamed Salah has terrorised opposition defences with his trademark dribbles around the right corner of the penalty box

Strengths

Analysing Liverpool’s strengths is a stark reminder not to rule them out. Their form had fallen off a cliff, but they did not win Europe’s elite competition and the domestic crown in the space of a year without resilience.

Ending their seven-hour run without a league goal on Thursday – with under-fire Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino among the scorers – could be the catalyst in their return to form.

Expected goals data suggests Klopp’s side have underperformed and results could well ‘regress to the mean’ imminently. Indeed, the signs are certainly positive.

Liverpool have topped the table for a league-high 34 days this term and rank top for goals scored, goals from set-pieces, possession won in the attacking and middle thirds, crosses and passes in the final third.

Only City can rival their sheer dominance across key metrics.

Weaknesses

The injury crisis has imposed weaknesses upon other areas. The absence of available centre-backs has pushed midfielder Fabinho and Jordan Henderson into the back four, which has weakened the press in central areas to expose the counter-attack.

Wayward crosses from full-backs and misfiring forwards have also compounded the problems in recent games, but was the poor run a blip? The question is whether their title defence will overcome the mental wobble and dip in form or be defined by injuries.

Tottenham

Position: 6th
Games played: 19
PPG: 1.74 (#6)


Sunday 31st January 7:00pm


Kick off 7:15pm

Overview

Many considered Spurs early title contenders after their scintillating start to the campaign, as Jose Mourinho’s tough and resolute style began to take hold and new signings settled.

However, as is often the case under Mourinho, team stability comes hand-in-hand with controversial decisions: former talisman Dele Alli is reportedly eyeing an exit on loan and returnee Gareth Bale is struggling to receive game time.

The lethal combination of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son helped catapult the team into top spot last month, but the defensive mantra and deeper formation has arguably become less effective as the season has progressed.

Star player: Harry Kane

Kane has notched a league-topping 11 assists – one clear of De Bruyne – and sits behind only Salah in the goal chart on 12. His tally of 23 goal involvements is five more than team-mate Heung-Min Son and Fernandes, who rank second.

However, Kane is set to be assessed after suffering an injury during the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool and an extending spell on the sidelines would be a major blow for Mourinho’s diminishing title tilt.

GRAPHIC

Strengths

Two qualities synonymous with Mourinho teams ring true: teamwork and defensive solidity. Despite his side lagging behind for total goals scored, they top the Premier League for assists – primarily from Kane’s creative exploits.

At the other end of the pitch, only league-leaders City have conceded fewer goals, boosted by holding midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg shielding the defensive line, who was arguably the bargain signing last summer at just £15m.

Weaknesses

In the polar opposite to United, Spurs’ main issue has been letting leads slip, losing 10 points from winning positions. Despite their impressive defensive record, the deeper shape could invite trailing teams forward and make it harder to secure the advantage.

In addition, Spurs do not spread opposition defences by firing crosses from wide – an approach typically deployed by Liverpool and Manchester City. Mourinho’s side have attempted a league-low 239 crosses and corners to date, while their average possession of 48.6 per cent is the lowest of ‘big six’ sides.

The others

It would be unwise to rule out contenders beyond the five aforementioned in this unique season. Everton have the next-best points-per-game ratio and two of the league’s standout players in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Rodriguez.


Saturday 30th January 7:45pm


Kick off 8:00pm

West Ham are enjoying a renaissance among the top teams under David Moyes after a five-game win streak, while Aston Villa dodged relegation by one point last term but have emerged as genuine challengers for Europe after an extraordinary transformation.

Finally, Arsenal and Chelsea may well have placed the so-called ‘big six’ club under scrutiny, but both teams have injected fresh impetus in recent weeks, with a youth revolution leading the Gunners to form and Chelsea calling time on club legend Frank Lampard to install former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel at the helm.

The window of opportunity remains open for pretenders to assert themselves as contenders and the nearly-has-beens to break the status quo and make history, while the revolving summit suggests plenty of surprises remain in store.