As good as it gets

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Dec 29 2013, 09:07am hrs
This is as good as it gets. The fall of the Manchester United empire has opened up the field and, at the half-way stage, at least five clubs are in hunt for the Premier League title.

Liverpool were on top on Christmas day. But after losing their Boxing Day fixture against Manchester City, they slid down to fourth place with 36 points from 18 matches. Interestingly, Liverpool were on top of the tree on December 25 in 2009 as well, but faltered on the home stretch. This time also, theres suddenly an element of doubt following their 2-1 loss to City at Etihad.

Liverpool have 18 League titles. At the same time, they havent won it since 1989-90. Theyve, however, made big progress under Brendan Rodgers this season. But a lot still needs to be done.

Make no mistake, the Merseysiders have enough quality to annex their 19th League crown in May. In Luis Suarez (19 goals in 13 matches), theyve one of the best players in the world. But are they ruthless enough Simon Mignolets howler against City and Raheem Sterlings miss from six yards suggested a short supply of killer instinct.

Champion sides make half-chances count, but Liverpool paid for their profligacy. The match against Chelsea on Sunday could well determine their future.

The Premier League title is Manchester Citys to lose,

said Rodgers.

Maybe he said that with a purposejust to take the pressure

off his young side. Or he just played mind games. But the Liverpool manager was never far from reality.

City have grown rapidly since their owner Sheikh Mansour pumped in 1 billion two seasons ago. They won the Premier League in 2012, their first title in 44 years, but failed to keep up the tempo last season.

This time, theyve really imposed themselves with a new swagger, which has rattled both United and Arsenal. And then there was that Champions League win against Bayern Munich at Allianz arena. City overturned a two-goal deficit to beat the European champions, which helped rise their stocks manifold.

In fact, City should go for a quadruple this season because theyve a team to win everythingPremier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League. Even without Sergio Aguero, whos sidelined with a calf injury, they look very strong and simply a cut above the rest.

Much, however, will depend on how their boss Manuel Pellegrini manages the squad in the second half of the season. City are on 38 points from 18 matches and the challenge for the Chilean would be to maintain the intensity level.

Arsenal are on top of the table at the moment after their comeback win against West Ham. If they looked a little insipid against Chelsea on home patch, they recovered quickly to be back in the groove again.

Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski have returned from injuries at the right time. Mesut Ozil is continuing to influence games with his wonderful assists, though Jose Mourinho had managed to cancel him out by parking the bus. But maybe Arsenal are still a little over-reliant on Olivier Giroud upfront and Arsene Wenger

needs to bring in a world-class striker in January for the

title push. The Gunners havent won the League since

2003-04, but with 39 points from 18 matches, this is their

best chance.

Chelseas problem is the lack of goals. The strikers are repeatedly fluffing the lines and it has prompted Mourinho to take regressive steps. The self-styled special one has decided to go back to his old ways, which thrived in winning ugly. It remains to be seen if the method can give him success this time. With 37 points from 18 games, the Blues are just two points shy of the League leaders.

The dark horse in the race is Roberto Martinezs Everton. With 34 points from 18 matches and just two losses, theyre right in the mix.

Martinez inherited a good side from David Moyes and made it better. Ross Barkley, arguably the best English football talent since Paul Gascoigne, is providing creativity in midfield. Seamus Coleman, with his all-round ability to attack and defence, is giving balance to the side and theres Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, to ensure goals.

The Toffees havent won the English top division title since 1986-87. This time, theyve the talent and a manager to dream big.

What about United The defending champions have conceded too much ground to have any realistic hope of retaining the title. With just 31 points from 18 matches and a seventh spot in the table, the best they can hope for is a fourth-place finish. The result against Hull City showed that theyve managed to recover some steel, but to win the championship, from here, they need an unbroken run of 15 consecutive victories, which this side is not capable of. League Cup appears to be Moyes only hope.

Uniteds continued hegemony, which was occasionally threatened by Chelsea and City, had made Premier League somewhat boring for the neutrals. Things have changed for better post Alex Ferguson.