We have surpassed the halfway point of the 2021/22 Premier League season and we already have a clear picture when it comes to the title race.
The same can be said about the dreaded relegation battle, which leaves a battle for Champions League qualification as the most exciting and unpredictable run-in.
Following Manchester City’s 1-0 home win over Chelsea at the weekend, there is a genuine feeling that the Blues are no longer legitimate candidates in the title run-in.
The defending Premier League champions now boast a substantial 13-point lead over the reigning Champions League holders, and it’s hard to make a case for Thomas Tuchel’s side to whittle down the gap.
Though there is plenty of time between now and the end of the season, Man City’s resounding domestic campaign, coupled with Chelsea’s indifferent form, makes it almost impossible for the Londoners to return in contention for the title.
In the meantime, Liverpool could be the only remaining serious threat to the Cityzens’ efforts to defend the crown and lift their fifth title in six years.
The Reds are currently 11 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s team in second, though a game in hand gives them a glimmer of hope going into the business end of the season.
It will be up to Jurgen Klopp to figure out how to keep his side on the upwards trajectory in the absence of headline performers Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
If Liverpool avoid slumps by the time the standout duo return to Anfield from the Africa Cup of Nations, they may still have a small window of opportunity to win their second Premier League title under Klopp.
However, it is almost impossible to imagine the scenario where Man City are not waltzing away with the ultimate prize.
Title: Manchester City
With Man City already on the cusp of lifting the title and Liverpool and Chelsea on course of a top-three finish, the battle for the one remaining Champions League spot will be fierce.
Given the Covid-19 induced match cancellations and games in hand, at least seven sides have realistic chances of clutching away a coveted fourth place.
As things stand now, 12 points separate fourth-placed West Ham United and 10th-placed Leicester City, who have four games in hand and remain firmly in the race for Champions League qualification.
David Moyes’ men have performed in patches this season, which could come back to haunt them come May.
The same goes for the King Power outfit, who have been the epitome of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, depending on where they play.
If Brendan Rodgers fails to find the way to translate his team’s home form to their road trips, the Foxes are likely to wave goodbye to their top-four prospects.
In addition to the two, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Wolverhampton and Brighton are all set to challenge for a fourth-place finish.
Despite a stellar summer transfer campaign, the Red Devils have flattered to deceive this season, while the Gunners continue to struggle in high-profile matches, throwing their top-four hopes into doubt.
Spurs have undergone a renaissance under new boss Antonio Conte and are now one of the most in-form sides in the Premier League, having gone unbeaten in all eight top-flight fixtures under the Italian’s stewardship.
With all due respect to Wolves and Brighton, both sides have struggled with inconsistent performances this term and they genuinely lack quality to support their bids.
Fourth-place Finish: Tottenham
Going into Matchday 23, Burnley, Newcastle United and Norwich City are languishing in the drop zone, though all sides have every reason to believe in their salvation hopes.
The archetypal ‘yo-yo’ club, the Canaries have so far fulfilled their status as hot relegation candidates, losing more matches (14) and conceding more goals (45) than any other Premier League side.
However, Dean Smith’s arrival could still help the Carrow Road outfit avoid relegation despite the odds as they currently trail 18th-placed Watford by a single point.
Yet, the Hornets have two games in hand, which feels under-fire manager Claudio Ranieri with confidence his men could carry their top-flight status into 2021/22.
The Magpies are two points adrift of safety after winning just one of their 20 league matches – the division’s joint-low alongside basement boys Burnley.
But the wealthy new owners have already finalised a couple of big-money deals to strengthen the squad in January, with Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood landing at St James’ Park.
The Tynesiders also have an outside chance of signing Barcelona star Ousmane Dembele this month (via Sport), which could be a season-changing move for Eddie Howe’s side.
Encouraged by a fresh cash injection, Howe’s men are expected to step up in the second half of the season and once again avoid relegation at the death.
Despite experiencing a thoroughly underwhelming Premier League campaign so far, Leeds United and Everton seem likely to stay in England’s top-flight beyond the summer.
Relegation Prediction: Burnley, Norwich City and Burnley