ANALYSIS: Premier League end of year report


LONDON, Dec. 31 -- The Premier League moves into the New Year with a clear favorite to lift the title, what is turning into an increasingly interesting battle to qualify for the Champions League and seven sides locked in a struggle to avoid the bottom three.

Liverpool's unstoppable run of form has seen them open up a seven-point lead over second place Manchester City, who suffered three unexpected defeats in December.

The 5-1 won over Arsenal on Wednesday showed Liverpool have the look of Champions: although in the first half, Arsenal had their chances and on another day they could easily have gone in at halftime on level terms or even ahead, Liverpool took their opportunities with the pomp of a side that believes in its destiny.

Jurgen Klopp, perhaps aware that Liverpool are the only team in recent years to have led the Premier League at Christmas and failed to make their advantage count at the end of the campaign, remains cautious about their title hopes, but Anfield believes and that could be a huge factor.

Pep Guardiola looked as if he was going to lead Manchester City to their second title in two years, but the wheels came off in December and although City will believe they can get right back into the title race if they can beat Liverpool when they entertain them in the Ethiad Stadium on January 3rd, that is a 'must win' game.

A win on Thursday would leave City just 4 points behind the leaders, but a win would surely see Klopp's men (who are unbeaten this campaign) put 10 points between them and it would need a collapse that at the moment doesn't look likely for them to waste that chance.

Tottenham's shock defeat to Wolves on Wednesday left them 9 points behind Liverpool and despite the form of Harry Kane and Heung Min-Son, that looks to be too much ground for Spurs to make up.

Tottenham also have to face the return to their newly rebuilt White Hart Lane Stadium at some stage in the New Year and it will be interesting to see whether that is a help or a problem after playing all of this season at Wembley.

Chelsea look to have stopped the slide that threatened them a few weeks ago and have consolidated themselves in the top-four, although whether or not they can climb any higher depends on their finding a quick solution to Eden Hazard's future at the club and on coach Maurizio Sarri persuading the club to buy him a reliable striker (which won't be easy in January).

Eight dropped points in four games have complicated Arsenal's chances of a top-four finish after a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions, while the departure of Jose Mourinho and his replacement by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has brought a smile back to Paul Pogba and virtually everyone else at Manchester United.

United have scored 12 goals in their three games under Solskjaer with Pogba netting four of them and although a top-four finish still looks complicated, they have a 6-point cushion over 7th place Wolves (who have impressed on their return to the top-flight) and hope for the second half of the campaign.

At the bottom of the table, a run of seven defeats leaves Huddersfield last and looking doomed to the drop due to the lack of quality in their squad. That leaves 6 teams (Fulham, Burnley, Southampton, Cardiff City, Newcastle and Crystal Palace) within 5 points of each other and struggling to avoid the other two remaining relegation places.

The arrival of Ralph Hasenhuttl looks to have sparked a revival at Southampton, while Rafael Benitez and Roy Hodgson are safe hands at Newcastle and Crystal Palace (although Benitez's continued dissatisfaction at a lack of signings could still be an issue if he receives an offer from elsewhere).

Claudio Ranieri has brought a minor improvement at Fulham, while Burnley's win over West Ham raised hopes they can recover the home form which saw them finish seventh last season and Cardiff can be relied on to give 100 percent in every game.

As is often the case at the bottom of the table much will depend on the January signings the relegation candidates make to give themselves a vital edge to escape the danger zone.

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