Premier League Heats up as Midseason Passes

The Barclays Premier League (BPL) table might look a bit different than the novice fan might expect, as the season’s midseason point is now weeks behind us. Most notably, annual juggernaut Manchester United had slipped into third place as of last Sunday, 12 points behind Diego Costa and Chelsea. However, if it weren’t for a late goal in last week’s match against West Ham United, another contender this year, United’s chances for a recovery would be even bleaker. Late in injury time, midfielder Daley Blind rocketed a one-timer in past the West Ham keeper to secure a much-needed draw for Manchester United. 

David De Gea kept Manchester United in the game early, making one acrobatic save after another. The only goal allowed by De Gea was an unbelievable volley by West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate in the 49th minute. Kouyate settled the ball, juggled it three times, spun and fired a shot into the back of the net. However, this was another game in which Manchester United had an opportunity to capitalize and gain three points, but failed to do so. Manchester did rebound nevertheless this past week versus lowly Burnley. Chris Smalling, a substitute defender, had two key goals in the 3-1 victory. The win moved United up two crucial places in the standings, into third place, albeit still 12 points behind Chelsea.

As the season began, Manchester United fans felt confident, as the team continued to sign high profile players such as Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind to large contracts and still retain legends such as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie. With the potential offensive firepower, not to mention the tremendous keeper David De Gea, Manchester United fans expected greatness. While Manchester United certainly isn’t out of contention for a title yet, their season can only be defined as a disappointment thus far. Some critics point a finger at first year coach Louis Van Gaal, a first timer in the ultra-competitive Premier League. Previously, Van Gaal was the coach of the Netherlands national team, and his last experience with a club team was with Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga. It has been a difficult transition period for United since the retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson had coached United since 1986 until his retirement at the end of 2013 and transformed Manchester United into what they are today, winning 13 Premier League titles during his stint. The microscope will continue to focus on new coach Louis Van Gaal as he attempts to right the ship and capture his first Premier League title.

A notable success story in the Premier League thus far is scrappy Southampton. Not typically a powerhouse, they have ascended the Premier League standings, moving into fourth place using a balanced attack throughout the year. Their success has been largely due to their tremendous defense and goalie, Fraser Forster. The England native is leading the league with 12 clean sheets and has only allowed 17 goals throughout the entire season. He is also ahead of World Cup heroes like Tim Krul and Joe Hart. In their most recent match, Southampton played to a 0-0 draw with the aforementioned West Ham United. However, the score was not nearly indicative of how the game was played. From start to finish, Southampton dominated possession and shots, thoroughly outplaying West Ham. However, Southampton failed to capitalize on several opportunities, including the ejection of the West Ham starting goalie, Adrián. With a substitute goalie in the game and only ten West Ham players on the pitch, it seemed certain that Southampton would break through and put one in the back of the net. Southampton upped their tempo, firing an onslaught of shots at the backup goalie. Time and time again, however, Jussi Jaaskelainen turned those shots away, preserving the draw for West Ham United.

While a Premier League title is what all these teams strive for, there is also the fight to qualify for the UEFA Champions League and the fight to avoid relegation. Each year, several of the top teams from the league around Europe qualify for the UEFA Champions League. In the Premier League’s case, the top four teams are qualified for this exclusive tournament that takes place the following year. Teams like Manchester United, West Ham United and Southampton will all be fighting for a spot in that elusive top four, even if they cannot reel in the dominating Chelsea. On the other end of the spectrum, Premier League teams fight to avoid relegation into the second tier league of England, the Football League Championship. Currently, there are six teams within four points of the relegation zone including Aston Villa, who has historically had great success in the Premier League. With so much at stake, the last few months of the Premier League should provide fans with the ample excitement and drama for which the league is known.