#1. Jamie Vardy is back
Much has been made about the ‘decline’ of Leicester, spearheaded by the lack of form of the 2 key attacking threats Riyad Mahrez and striker Jamie Vardy.
At this stage of last season Jamie Vardy had scored 14 goals in 15 games along the way surpassing Robin Van Persie’s record of scoring in consecutive league games.
After 15 games this season he only has 5, just over a 3rd of his tally at this point last season. Many said he was a one season wonder, winning the league had taken away his appetite to succeed.
There is still a case for that train of thought, however during Saturday’s impressive win over Man City, the Jamie Vardy of last season woke up. Vardy grabbed a hat-trick, more than doubling his tally for the season so far.
But this could be more than just a personal accolade for the England striker, it could mark the start of a Leicester City revival.
It wasn’t just Vardy who impressed against City, Mahrez also played his part, and has since won the well-deserved BBC African Player of the Year award. With the Champions League now on a break for over 2 months, it will allow Leicester a chance to claw their way back up the league table and Vardy is central to a Premier League assault.
#2. Arsenal’s unbeaten run continues
Chelsea have taken recent plaudits from fans and pundits alike, since the switch to the famous 3-4-3 system, they remain undefeated in the league winning 9 in a row, placing them at the summit of the Premier League table.
However something that has gone slightly under the radar is the consistent and impressive form of Arsenal who were meant to have a poor run of form during the ‘cursed’ month of November.
However, Arsenal navigated their way through November without defeat in the league, winning 1 and drawing 2; the 2 draws coming away at Man Utd and home against Spurs.
The last 3 wins in a row has placed Arsenal 2nd in the league, just 3 points behind league leaders Chelsea, and 3 points ahead of 3rd place Liverpool.
Arsenal also finished top of their Champions’ League group only to be ‘rewarded’ with a last 16 tie against Bayern Munich.
Arsenal have been very consistent this season something which perhaps eluded them in seasons recently past. They actually remain undefeated in 14 league games, their only defeat coming on the opening game of the season.
Whilst Chelsea remain bookies favourite for the league, the way Arsenal are playing, they will be right on their heels if they were to slip up. A couple of tricky games come up for Arsenal, Everton away on Tuesday evening and Man City away on Sunday. If they can navigate through these games undefeated, they will be confident of a title charge in the New Year.
#3. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has arrived
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was Jose Mourinho’s 3rd summer signing, and a lot was expected of the highly rated midfielder. He had a great term at Dortmund last season scoring 23 goals and registering an impressive 32 assists across all competitions. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was also voted Bundesliga Player of the Season for 2015/16.
His arrival, along with Paul Pogba and ‘Zlatan’ was meant to be a new dawn for Man United following 3 disappointing seasons, the quality of United’s signings was a statement of intent.
However since the 2-1 defeat in the Manchester Derby, Mkhitaryan had hardly played for United, not even making match day squads since that defeat with stories coming out in the press that he wasn’t physically or mentally ready for the Premier League.
Fans took to social media to show their displeasure for the fact he was casted aside, but Mourinho maintained he was breaking him in slowly. And to Jose’s credit, it seems to of worked a treat.
Mkhitaryan played a key role in Man United’s Europa league victory against Feyenoord, followed by another impressive display in the 4-1 win against West Ham in the EFL cup. He scored his first goal for United in the Europa league win against Zorya Luhansk, and scored his first goal at Old Trafford, sealing victory against Tottenham at the weekend.
But more than just the goal, his performance gave a glimpse of what he has to offer this United team. His quick feet, quick thinking and great technique is just what this United team needed to breathe life into the midfield. It is a sight to behold having a player who actually takes players on and runs at defenders.
For United, Mkhitaryan has come in at the right time leading into a busy Christmas schedule. United have a decent run of game coming up that could see United go on a run, pushing them back towards the top 4. The Man of the Match performance against Tottenham was slightly marred by an injury at the hands of Danny Rose, but thankfully for United it doesn’t seem as bad as first thought.
#4. Liverpool’s defence will cost them this season
Liverpool started the Premier League season in fine form winning 5 of the first 7 games. Liverpool also went on an 11 game unbeaten run in the League until their 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth.
Along the way Liverpool impressed with their attacking displays scoring a heap of goals and are currently the league’s top goal scorers on 37 goals. This means Liverpool are averaging 2.5 goals per game in the league.
But one thing that had been a little bit of a concern was Liverpool’s defence. Before this weekend, Liverpool had conceded 18 goals, the most goals conceded out of the top 8 teams. Their unreliable defence and goalkeeper are starting to become a problem.
Liverpool have had only 1 win in their last 4 games in the league. Prior to this run of games Liverpool were top of the league, 1 point ahead of Chelsea and 2 ahead of Arsenal. However now, they are 6 points behind Chelsea and 3 behind Arsenal. This is massive 7 point swing on Chelsea and a 5 point swing on Arsenal in only 4 games.
Much of this has been down to their defending and mistakes of young goalkeeper Loris Karius.
There is already a marked change from his form last season, albeit whilst at Mainz in the Bundesliga.
Last season he averaged 2.10 saves per goal conceded. This season he has averaged 1.17 saves per goal conceded. This is even lower than the 1.27 of Simon Mignolet from last season at Liverpool.
Karius has also made the fewer punches per game, fewer catches per game but most concerning is the errors leading to a goal. Last season there were no instances of his errors leading directly to a goal in the Bundesliga. This season however he is averaging 0.20 errors per game leading to a goal, higher than that of Mignolet last season. This means he will average 1 error leading to a goal every 5 games in the league.
When you couple this with an already uneasy defence, it could be a painful festive period for Liverpool who have to play local rivals Everton away from home, Stoke City and Man City all before this years out.
#5. Everton Slip
Another troubled team in the North West of the country, Liverpool’s local rivals Everton have been in free fall of late.
Everton have not won in 5 league games, losing in 3 of those 5 games. In fact they have only won once in the last 10 games, losing 5 of the 10. This means they have only taken 7 points from the last 30 available.
As a result, Everton have now slipped down the league into 9th place, recently being overtaken by Watford and West Brom.
In the first 5 games of the season, Everton were undefeated, winning 4 of the first 5. There were right amongst the top 4 with many tipping them to compete with 6 or 7 clubs jostling for a top 4 space. In those first 5 games they conceded, on average only 0.6 goals per game.
Since then, Everton have conceded on average 1.78 goals per game, nearly 3 times as much as early in in the season.
And things aren’t getting any easier for Everton with the next 3 games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Leicester City.
With the Premier League so tight, if they don’t get a win over the next 3 games they really could plummet 3 or 4 places. It is a far cry from the Ronald Koeman team that started the season and perhaps the January transfer window will allow him to add a much needed bit of strength and quality to the squad.
By Michael Thatcher