As we go full steam ahead into the second half of the Premier League season, we take a peek into our crystal ball and make a handful of predictions for the remainder of the campaign.
Liverpool pip Manchester City to title
It feels like Liverpool is actually going to pull this off.
Anchored by Virgil van Dijk, a robust backline is finally offering the necessary balance to a side that remains one of Europe’s most electrifying going forward; Mohamed Salah is no one-season wonder, in case you had doubts for some reason.
Jurgen Klopp has a talented squad that, unlike last season, looks to have the necessary depth to maintain a sustained charge toward the title, even with the Reds competing on multiple fronts.
It looked as though Manchester City, with their never-ending onslaught of quick, incisive passing, were prepared to once again make light work of the Premier League earlier in the season. But recent slipups have allowed the undefeated Merseyside giants to open up a healthy gap atop the table.
Liverpool, Premier League champions. We’re inching closer to seeing that written in earnest for the first time.
Eden Hazard named PFA Player of the Year
The PFA Player of the Year is often awarded to the standout performer from the title-winning side; over the past four years, only Salah has claimed the honor despite not hoisting the Premier League crown, and that took a Herculean 2017-18 season in which he set a new league scoring record.
Chelsea, barring something truly miraculous – catastrophic, if you look at it from a Liverpool, Manchester City, or Tottenham perspective – aren’t capturing the league title in 2019. And yet, Eden Hazard’s sustained excellence will still see him earn England’s top individual accolade.
League leaders Liverpool have spread the wealth around this season, getting enormous contributions from multiple players: Salah, Van Dijk, and Alisson chief among them. They could split the vote for the Reds. With Kevin De Bruyne sidelined for much of the campaign thus far, Fernandinho has arguably been Manchester City’s most valuable player. It’s unlikely, though, that a defensive midfielder not named N’Golo Kante will get his hands on this award any time soon. Spurs, meanwhile, have also grown into a club less dependent on the exploits of Harry Kane, with Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, and Dele Alli having grown into bona fide stars.
At Stamford Bridge, it’s Hazard’s show.
The silky attacker is the singular force that drives Maurizio Sarri’s team, and with the Italian tactician opting to use him in a more central role this season, the diminutive Belgian will have every opportunity to record a career-high goal tally, which would only strengthen his POTY case.
Harry Kane wins another Golden Boot
While the aforementioned blossoming of Eriksen, Son, and Alli into legitimate stars likely hinders Kane’s Player of the Year credentials, it almost certainly makes him an even more dangerous threat in front of goal. With defenders being forced to pay attention to multiple scoring options, the 25-year-old Englishman stands to be the main benefactor.
Kane’s been consistently prolific despite being the focal point of opposing managers’ game plans in recent years. Now imagine him with an extra inch of space here or there. The results could be devastating.
The winner of the Golden Boot in two of the last three seasons – scoring 25 and 29 goals, respectively – Kane is once again right in the mix to be crowned England’s scoring king. He’s tied atop the table on 13 tallies, and, according to Understat, he’s second in Expected Goals, which suggests he’s getting into all the right positions to keep finding the back of the net.
Arsenal’s attack cools off
Arsenal’s attack has largely been firing on all cylinders in 2018-19, with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette helping to offset some dubious defending with their prowess at the other end.
The two strikers, who have combined for 19 goals on the campaign thus far, have a proven track record of finding the net, but on the whole, Arsenal have probably profited from a hot run of finishing in the opening half of the season.
The Gunners, fourth in the league with 42 goals scored, have an Expected Goal total of just 30.36, per Understat.
No club has scored more goals from outside the penalty area this season than the nine fired in by Unai Emery’s men. That’s both a testament to the shooting skill of players like Aubameyang, Lacazette, and even the much-maligned Granit Xhaka – each of whom has found the net twice from outside the box this year – but it’s not exactly a recipe for sustained success.
Outgunning your Expected Goals haul is certainly not unique – just ask clubs like Monaco and Juventus, who have done exactly that in recent seasons – but if Arsenal’s finishing starts regressing, results could follow suit.
Paul Pogba drags United back into Champions League race
With Jose Mourinho mercifully out of the picture at Old Trafford, it’s time for Paul Pogba to take over.
It’s an exceedingly brief sample size, but the Frenchman, such a dominant force this past summer at the World Cup, finally seems to have the freedom to express himself on the pitch under interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer; he’s been involved in four goals in just two matches since the Norwegian replaced the bombastic Portuguese tactician.
They may have looked dead and buried during the final days of Mourinho’s tenure, but with Pogba running the show and an incredibly favorable schedule on the horizon, look for Manchester United to thrust themselves right back into the conversation for a Champions League place.
It’s unlikely they actually break into the top four, but Solskjaer has the pieces to make United’s presence felt in the race for European places.