It’s a title no-one seems to want to win. The race to the title appears to be a go-slow one where the protagonists seem more interested in disrupting each other’s own aspirations through draws than beating the remaining opposition. In some sense the English top league resembles Mad Max: Fury Road. That being one of the great action movies of all time however does not equate to this being something great. In the end it could be since the likely winners are all very, very unlikely true contenders. First we have Leicester City who last year were more concerned about staying in the top division. Then there are North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal who are perennial fourth place aspirants and specialists, respectively.
Pre-season favourites, Immortan Joe (read Manchester City), had no business losing but have contrived to be stuck in a real battle with Arsenal, Manchester United and West Ham. That they could be in a fight for the top four reinforces the convention that they have been most disappointing of all. Alas, with Manuel Pellegrini now running out his tenure after a baffling decision to announce he would be replaced since mid-season they have Pep Guardiola to come and hopefully further shake things up. It could be a case of the big spenders spouting that famous Immortan Joe line: “Do not, Leicester and Tottenham, get addicted to the title (water). It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!” Maybe then they can finally perform to potential and rejuvenate a jaded looking squad.
This molasses paced race to the title has provided excitement of its own kind. Leicester is as amazing a story as you can find and it is both an indictment on those at the top and praise of those below that this can happen. Competitiveness domestically somewhat sacrifices European glory in more ways than one. The hand to hand combat of the league in 2015/16 between underdogs, long suffering Arsenal and lagging Manchester clubs now leaves us with what we have now…beautiful, entertaining, strange chaos. This is English Premier League: Fury Road. Let’s look at the protagonists and improbable spoilers.
Leicester City Foxes: Chance of winning 50%
“We’re not to blame”
“Then who made the rest average?”
Nine matches to play and a relatively soft schedule leave the most unlikely of challengers the most likely winners in what has been a league characterised by the demise of fancied teams. At this current pace Leicester would win the league with 79 points, a total that would be the fourth lowest winning after Manchester United in 1997 with 75 points, Arsenal the year after with 78, and United with 79 points in 1999.
Their title bid has been shrugged off all season as one injury away from a capitulation. We’re in March and the wait is still on. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have carried the team offensively with N’golo Kante breaking through with a fine season. Their defense which began shakily has pulled off a string of clean sheets and they have become quite difficult to score against using the counterattack to good effect against superior teams.
Leicester’s remaining opponents are 19th, 15th, 8th, 17th, 5th, 16th, 6th, 11th and 10th in the table. Still think it’s impossible? We’ll see.
Tottenham Hotspur: Chance of winning 30%
“You never gonna have a better chance”
Mauricio Pochettino stuck to his project and it has paid dividends. It makes no sense to discredit them at all. They find themselves with a real chance of a first Premier league title, third first division title overall, and first since 1960/61. No rush.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the Spurs season has been the emergence of a real talent in Dele Alli. Stalwarts have pulled their weight and they boast maybe the best defender in the league this season in the Belgian Toby Alderweireld. It would be just as good to see Spurs win for the neutral. Big money wouldn’t win out and it would be done with English players in prominent positions. Harry Kane began his season in a real nightmare. His first goal took nine domestic games and seven league; his first nine Premier league games produced a solitary goal and assist. Since being thrust into life with a hattrick against Bournemouth on October 25, he has pounded 17 league goals in 23 more. Christian Eriksen has seem renergised of late and with more pedigree than Leicester if there’s a likely overturning of this five point deficit to the chasing pack, it should come from the White Hart Lane side of North London.
Arsenal’s Gunners: Chance of winning 8%
They lie in third but seem vulnerable to Manchester City who are two points behind with a game in hand against Newcastle United. Are they doomed to their comfort zone of fourth already? Alexis Sanchez has been very underwhelming of late and the deafening cry from fans is, as usual, for rest. However, the most telling blow to their season was struck when converted deep lying playmaker Santi Cazorla went down with a knee injury on November in their 1-1 draw with Norwich. We don’t know how many recognized this as a potential death knell on their title aspirations but the effect has been telling.
Watching Arsenal tinker around in that crucial position, because of both added injury and uncertainty as to the best suited at a particular time again shows how much the diminutive Spaniard has been missed in an understated role. The true stars Sanchez and Mesut Ozil may need to pick this team up and carry them across the line if they are to have any chance. Still possible but highly unlikely, and it’s partly their own fault.
Manchester’s Citizens: Chance of winning 12%
“Here they come again… worming their way into the title race. I tell myself, they cannot possibly win. They are long dead”.
We’re going to assume the others have absolutely no shot. Man. City have been a dismal failure this season, but there is always opportunity for redemption on Fury Road. If Leicester and Tottenham manage to both collapse then Man. City could conceivably gain possibly 28 more points from 10 and gain those 10 (7 if the game in hand is won) on Leicester City. They will, as usual, rely on the usual suspects. Yaya Toure, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero must come good and consistently good when it really matters if they will have their Furiosa moment.
For some time it has looked like they have been going through the motions without their captain for most of the season. Now is the time to reemerge in a slow as snails, brash, and bruising title race.
When all is said and done we will have an entertaining and potentially finish. If the top two win it will be a massive upset. If Arsenal pull it off…well that’s just inconceivable. If Man. City win it will be one great resurrection.
Enjoy this sequel to Fury Road.