The first half of the Premier League season has been nothing short of brilliant. We’ve witnessed Chelsea‘s Antonio Conte evolve from the betting favorite to be the first manager sacked to now just one Premier League win away from making history for most consecutive wins with a six-point cushion on top of the league. Jose Mourinho & Pep Guardiola started out red hot in Manchester, but now with City in 5th and United in 6th, it looks like the battle will be for a Champions League spot between the two sides. Out west in Liverpool, the hanging jaw of Jurgen Klopp and his electric Reds are looking to be the biggest threats to Chelsea. Liverpool started the season as a team that needed four goals to win a game and were more than capable of putting up more, but after an impressive win over Manchester City, the Reds have proven they have the grit to grind out wins as well. Arsenal have continued to lurk in the background, but haven’t taken a real step into the title race, and rumors of Chelsea and Bayern Munich looming over Alexis Sanchez should have the Gunners hierarchy worried. Arsene Wenger must be in contention in the final third of the season or his tenure with Arsenal could be up.
Premier League Player of the Year
There’s no player in the world that has been playing as good as Diego Costa this campaign. Costa has been the key factor in Chelsea’s astonishing turnaround. The Brazilian-born striker has a league-leading 14 goals and five assists in 18 appearances. His change has been more than just in form, Costa has been able to contain himself on the pitch and channel his volatile temper into positive results. If Chelsea can ward off the Chinese Super League’s $85 million bid, Costa could walk away from this season with a Premier League title, Golden Boot award, and Player of the Year.
Signing of the Year
N’Golo Kante has been nothing short of perfect this season, anchoring the Chelsea midfield line. But, Sadio Mane has been the driving influence behind Liverpool’s electric offense. The attacker has scored eight goals in 17 starts for the Merseyside club. At only 24, his £34 million transfer fee may be one the team’s best pieces of business. Mane now leaves Liverpool to go play for his home country of Senegal at the African Cup of Nations, whether Liverpool will be able to cope without the winger will certainly be the biggest story line of January.
Manager of the Year
With 13-straight wins and a six-point cushion at the top of the table, the former Italian & Juventus Manager has resurrected Chelsea as a team and club. Missing out on the Champions League has been a giant advantage for Conte, who is known for working his players relentlessly. In only a few months he’s been able to turn Victor Moses into a top tier wing back, has Diego Costa smiling while running through center-backs, and has David Luiz playing the best defensive football of his career. Conte has made it clear that he is bringing a new style to Chelsea: he’s pushed the club to not go out and spend big, but instead promote within the club. If he’s able to keep all of his players intact and add his type of pieces, Chelsea will be favorites going up against anyone.
Second Half Player to Watch
Manchester City sit in 5th place at the halfway point, and will need an explosion in the second half of the campaign if they want to even contend for the title. But going into the month of his 21st birthday, Leroy Sane has all the tools to get them back into the race. The German international has shown glimpses of his ability and the fearlessness that made him the most expensive German player in history. The only thing holding him back is injury problems. If he can get beyond them, the sky is the limit.
Who wins the League
In my season preview, I thought Manchester City had the best player and best team. They still have the best players, but Chelsea have just shown they are the best team. They’ve shown some style in their win streak, but have also grinded out wins. They do everything and anything to get three points. While Liverpool are nipping at their heels, the Reds face massive questions going into the next month without Mane, and with key players like Phillip Coutinho and Joel Matip nursing injuries. Even with the Premier League as unpredictable as it is, I don’t see anyone stopping this Chelsea train.
First Half Best XI
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), David Luiz (Chelsea), Virgel Van dijk (Southampton) Ryan Bertand (Southampton) N’ Golo Kante (Chelsea), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Diego Costa (Chelsea)
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Phillip Coutinho (Liverpool)
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
Adam Lallana (Liverpool)
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Danny Rose (Tottenham)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)