With the flurry of festive football action now finished, it’s time for many Premier League teams to take stock and consider the challenges that lie ahead.
While Chelsea might have suffered a slip-up as Spurs ended their 13-game winning run, Antonio Conte’s side are still sitting pretty at the summit. But who can challenge them for the title and who has made the biggest impression on the league thus far? We asked ex-Liverpool and England defender Rob Jones for his thoughts at the half-way stage of the campaign…
Manager of the season: Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool
“I’m not being biased here, but I think for the amount of money he’s spent in comparison to the majority of the other clubs in the top six he’s done exceptionally well. Just seeing how he works with the players – he’s friendly with them, puts his arm around them but also knows when to shout at them as well. He’s always got his tactics right against the top teams and I think he’s been the best boss up to now.”
Player of the season: Sadio Mané
“When Liverpool bought him for £30million [about Dhs136 million] there were a few eyebrows raised over the price tag, but I think he’s shown in this half of the season that he’s worth it. He has scored some important goals for Liverpool and caused plenty of problems for defences. Liverpool are going to miss him when he goes off to the African Cup of Nations, but you hope they’ve got a big enough squad to cover for him.”
Top signing: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
“When he first came to United, I saw his age and just thought he was past it, he wouldn’t be able to cope with the amount of games the Premier League involves and how fast the football is. I think he’s proved people wrong, he’s scored some important goals and linked up well with his teammates. Without him this season, United would definitely have struggled. At his age, you just wouldn’t have expected it – to be playing week in, week out, scoring goals and having such a positive effect.”
Surprise packages: Burnley and Bournemouth
“These are the two teams that have surprised me. Neither have that much money and can be called ‘smaller clubs’. I just thought Burnley might struggle but both teams have had some good results and produced some late winners, which are just keeping them in the middle part of the table. I just hope they can both kick on in the New Year and maintain their good start. It’s always nice to see the so-called smaller clubs doing well in the Premier League.”
Biggest flop: Leicester City
“I wouldn’t exactly call them a flop but after what Leicester achieved last season, we knew they wouldn’t be able to do that again. Especially with their Champions League commitments, the extra games have raised questions about whether they had a deep enough squad and enough quality to keep them in the top half of the league. I think they’ve really struggled and it could even get worse for them in the second half of the season. I don’t think you could have expected Jamie Vardy to carry on scoring the amount of goals he did last season and the link-up play to continue at that level. I just hope they can get a little run together to make sure they stay clear of the relegation zone. The second half of the season could be a real hard graft for them.”
Who’ll be champions: Chelsea
“Sadly for me, I think I’m going to have to go for Chelsea! They’ve just looked so strong in the first half of the season and you just can’t see them faltering, in spite of the Spurs result. Even if they get a couple of injuries, they’ve got a good squad. I think Liverpool are going to be up there but are they good enough [to take advantage] if Chelsea drop points? If you look at the Sunderland game, you have to be winning those games if you’re going to win the title.”
Rob Jones and his wife, Sue, now run day nursery and preschool provider Evolution Childcare (www.evolution-childcare.co.uk). Watch all the EPL action on beIN Sports.