Updated: May 23, 2021
For the first time in quite some years the Premier League may be braced for an enigmatic title race that goes down to the wire. Other European league tables have also begun to take shape, hinting further at an emerging sense of normality in 2021.
At mid-season, clubs occupying top spot in their respective domestic leagues include Manchester City, AC Milan, Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Glasgow Rangers.
Until their 5-0 thumping of strugglers West Brom, Pep Guardiola’s Man City had netted 31 goals in 18 league clashes – significantly fewer than they had at this point last season (52). Ostensibly it has not been picture perfect in attack for Guardiola's City cavalry albeit they have been ultra robust in defence this term. The centre-back consortium of John Stones & Rúben Dias has proven instrumental in City keeping 11 clean sheets – the most in the division. Their impervious backline has conceded just 2 goals in 1,015 minutes of league playtime.
364 days after their last domestic away defeat (at Anfield), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Man United returned to Merseyside as league leaders – three points above their bitter Northwest rivals. Ahead of the feisty encounter Liverpool were 67 Premier League matches unbeaten on home soil whilst United came into the contest on a run of 22 domestic fixtures undefeated on their travels.
Anticlimactically, their 175th league meeting saw the spoils shared in a goalless stalemate.
Halfway through the league campaign, Jürgen Klopp’s Reds have already dropped 23 points – eight more than they yielded all of last season. Scoring goals has lately proven an elusive task for the defending champions, who have failed to do so in more than seven hours of PL action.
1,369 days after their last league loss at home, Liverpool's illustrious streak was expunged by Burnley who won at Anfield for the first time since 1974.
In being the 20/21 PL surprise package, Aston Villa have hushed doubters and gained plaudits aplenty along their merry way. After their close relegation scare last season, the Villains strengthened in vital areas and have resurged up the top half of the table. Villa are currently six points shy of the top 4, and also have two games in hand.
Team manager Dean Smith was named PL Manager of the Month for December.
Ralph Hasenhüttl's Southampton have also shown considerable signs of a dark horse, floating in and around the European qualification spots; the Saints trail Liverpool by five points.
At the opposite end of the log, the patent underachievers have been Sheffield United who were winless after 17 outings – the worst start in any top-flight season since the inauguration of the Football League in 1888-89. Following an idyllic first season back in Britain’s elite, the Blades have taken the concept of 'second season syndrome' to a new dimension having collected a shabby five points out of 57.
The lowest final points tally recorded in the PL era is 11 (Derby County, 2007/08).
Arsenal, too, endured a shaky start to the season which saw Mikel Arteta's army pick up 11 points from a possible 30 throughout November & December.
However, since Boxing Day the Gunners are on a run of six PL matches unbeaten, courtesy of inspiring performances by academy graduates Bukayo Saka & Emile Smith-Rowe.
The 20/21 sack race was won by Slaven Bilić who became the first top-flight head coach to be relieved of his duties, after his West Brom side mustered two points from their opening 13 league outings. The Croatian was promptly replaced by Sam Allardyce, 66, who is in charge of a record 8th different team in England's premier division; Allardyce has never been relegated from the Premier League.
The sacking of Bilić as Baggies boss on 16 Dec means that, in the PL era, there have been only three seasons in which the first sacking has occurred after Christmas; the inaugural season (1992-93), together with the 95/96 & 2014/15 seasons.
The sack race silver medal went to Frank Lampard who parted company with Chelsea after 18 months behind the manager‘s desk at Stamford Bridge. The club's all-time record goalscorer had been under heaps of pressure with the team's shoddy form since going top of the table early December.
The Blues are presently 12 points off the pace and occupy 10th position, having taken 1 win in 5 since Boxing Day. Ex-PSG boss Thomas Tuchel was swiftly announced as Lampard's successor.
Liverpool forward Mo Salah leads the Golden Boot race with his 13 goals, ahead of Spurs duo Heung-min Son & Harry Kane (both 12). English strikers Jamie Vardy & Dominic Calvert-Lewin have bagged 11 apiece, as has Bruno Fernandes. In winning the December PL Player of the Month, the Man Utd talisman became the first-ever player to win the award four times in a calendar year.
Kane tops the assists charts with 11, one ahead of Man City maestro Kevin de Bruyne.
City have also kept 11 clean sheets, with next best Villa & Southampton sitting on 9 and 8, respectively.
PL table at half-season:
P W PTS GD
1. Man City 19 12 41 +23
2. Man Utd 19 12 40 +11
3. Leciester 19 12 38 +18
4. West Ham 20 10 35 + 6
18. Fulham 18 2 12 -12
19. West Brom 20 2 11 -33
20. Sheff Utd 19 1 5 -22
Arch rivals United & Liverpool met for a 2nd time inside eight days, this time at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. In a much more animated and tortuous affair, Solskjaer's Red Devils disposed of their foes and will next tackle West Ham in the Fifth Round. Five PL teams were knocked out of the Cup in the Third Round with a further three bowing out this past weekend in the Fourth Round, including holders Arsenal who crashed out to Southampton for the first time in competition history.
Selected FA Cup Fifth Round fixtures (9-10 February):
- Everton vs Tottenham
- Man Utd vs West Ham
- Swansea vs Man City
- Wolves vs Southampton
Selected upcoming PL fixtures:
28 Jan - Spurs vs Liverpool
30 Jan - Arsenal vs Man Utd
4 Feb - Spurs vs Chelsea
6-7 Feb - Liverpool vs Man City; Man Utd vs Everton
13 Feb - Leicester vs Liverpool; Man City vs Spurs
20-21 Feb - Liverpool vs Everton; Arsenal vs Man City
28 Feb - Leicester vs Arsenal; Chelsea vs Man Utd
Pep Guardiola & José Mourinho will battle it out for the first domestic prize of the season, as three-time defending champions Man City meet Spurs in the EFL Cup Final on 25 April.
Mourinho – with an 80% success rate in cup finals – has never lost in four previous League Cup Finals at Wembley. Conversely, of their five final appearances since the turn of millennium Spurs have gone on to lift the eventual prize just once (07/08 League Cup); opponents City are unbeaten in their last 19 EFL Cup ties, spanning across four seasons.
Every year since the 14/15 season has seen either Guardiola or Mourinho hoist the League Cup.
Championship outfit Brentford impressively saw off four PL teams (Southampton, West Brom, Fulham & Newcastle) on route to an unsuccessful one-legged semifinal in north London, where Spurs won by two goals to nil; Man City saw off neighbours Man Utd by the same scoreline.
Across Europe’s acclaimed top 5 leagues, AC Milan were the last remaining rep to remain undefeated but recently had their 27-match unbeaten run extinguished at the hands of Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus.
In the Derby d’Italia, Juve fell short to Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan at the San Siro, 2-0.
With the ever so ripe Zlatan Ibrahimović leading the line, the Rossoneri have a 2-point cushion at the summit of the standings, over local rivals Inter.
Bayern Munich are cruising in the German Bundesliga, with Hansi Flick's side seven points ahead of their closest challengers RB Leipzig.
Similarly, Atlético Madrid hold a 7-point buffer over rivals Real in the Spanish LaLiga. Diego Simeone's men have conceded just eight goals in the league and also have a game in hand.
PSG, now with Mauricio Pochettino at the helm, are scarcely top of the pile in the French Ligue 1; the Parisians edge Lille on goal difference, two points ahead of Lyon.
Steven Gerrard's Rangers are looking to bring the Scottish Premiership back to the Ibrox for the first time in 9 years, and currently lead Celtic by a gargantuan 23 points.
The FIFA Club World Cup, originally planned for late 2020, will take place from 1-11 Feb in Japan.
Teams taking part include European champions Bayern Munich as well as Egyptian outfit Al Ahly, led by South African coach Pitso Mosimane.
Bayern, Dortmund, Chelsea, Juventus, Liverpool, Man City, PSG, and Real Madrid all advanced to the Round of 16 as group winners in the UEFA Champions League, which resumes 16-17 Feb. Some extreme encounters include Barcelona vs PSG, in addition to Atlético vs Chelsea, and Leipzig vs Liverpool.
On Thursday 18 & 25 Feb, English clubs Arsenal, Leicester, Man Utd & Spurs are all in action in the inferior Europa League, Round of 32.
Goal involvements in Europe's top leagues:
Player Club G + A Appearances
🇪🇬M. Salah 🏴Liverpool 13 + 3 18
🏴H. Kane 🏴Spurs 12 + 11 18
🇰🇷H. Son 🏴Spurs 12 + 6 18
🇵🇹B. Fernandes 🏴Man Utd 11 + 7 19
🏴J. Vardy 🏴Leicester 11 + 5 18
🇵🇹C. Ronaldo 🇮🇹Juventus 15 + 3 15
🇮🇹C. Immobile 🇮🇹Lazio 13 + 2 17
🇧🇪R. Lukaku 🇮🇹Inter 12 + 3 18
🇸🇪Z. Ibrahimović 🇮🇹Milan 12 + 1 9
🇺🇾L. Suárez 🇪🇸A. Madrid 12 + 2 15
🇦🇷L. Messi 🇪🇸Barcelona 11 + 2 17
🇫🇷K. Benzema 🇪🇸R. Madrid 10 + 5 17
🇪🇸I. Aspas 🇪🇸Celta Vigo 9 + 6 17
🇵🇱R. Lewandowski 🇩🇪Bayern 23 + 5 17
🇳🇴E. Haaland 🇩🇪Dortmund 14 + 2 13
🇵🇹A. Silva 🇩🇪Frankfurt 14 + 2 17
🇩🇪T. Müller 🇩🇪Bayern 9 + 9 18
🇫🇷K. Mbappé 🇫🇷PSG 14 + 6 17
🇳🇱M. Depay 🇫🇷Lyon 11 + 6 21
🇩🇪K. Volland 🇲🇨Monaco 10 + 6 19
🏴J. Tavernier 🏴Rangers 11 + 9 25