The soccer news starts with a look at the Premier League table after the run of holiday games. Liverpool now has a 13-point lead over Leicester City at the top, with Manchester City a point behind Leicester. There's no flattering to deceive that there's much of a chance of a title race. Liverpool is currently walking away with the season. Chelsea in 4th has the final Champions League spot, 8 points behind Manchester City and five points ahead of Manchester United.
It's the four points that separates 5th-place Manchester United from 10th-place Arsenal that could make things interesting in the Premier League sooner than later. United's position at the top of this group isn't a given. Their's pressure on the club to move players in and out this month along with growing dissatisfaction with their performances. After losing 2-0 at Watford on December 22, they beat Newcastle 4-1 at home, Burnley 2-0 away, and then lost 2-0 at Arsenal on New Year's Day. That should send a clear message to the teams behind them that United will give up points. Making them up is the question for spots 6-10 in the table.
Whether or not the Premier League wants to pride itself in parity is a good question. Leicester City's title run a few years ago was treated as proof that the competition is more open than most thought. That was a one-off, with the likeliest suspects back at the top of the table. That's still partly the situation, and once again it's Leicester City providing the counterargument. The Premier League may not want to be a league of big clubs slotting into their four automatic group stage spots in the Champions League, but that's almost always going to be the scenario.
January may not be kind to any of the three outliers in the top 10. That would be 7th-place Wolverhampton at 30 points, 8th-place Sheffield United at 29, and 9th-place Crystal Palace at 28th. All three are vulnerable for other clubs making offers they can't reasonably refuse. What any of them look like when the transfer window closes is an open question, adding to the pressure to keep pace right now. Palace is ultimately the most vulnerable. Wilfried Zaha finally seems to be going somewhere, and that would destabilize any club. With 10th-place Arsenal at Palace on Saturday and 11th-place Everton regrouping under new management, it's easy to see both of them moving up this week or next when Palace is at Manchester City.
Arsenal hosts Sheffield United on January 18 with United home to Manchester City three days later. Wolverhampton has an easier schedule until they host Liverpool on the 23, away to Manchester United on February 1, and then home to Leicester City after the Premier League's strange version of a winter break on the 14.
The schedule isn't helping any of them, with a reshuffling of spots 5 through 13 a safe assumption. Dipping down to include 11th-place Everton, 12th-place Southampton, and 13th-place Newcastle is easy enough since goal difference separates those teams at 25 points. A point behind them are Brighton and Burnley. How mid-table shakes out through the winter break should set the tone for the rest of the season. Without clear separation, it's the kind of Premier League parity the bigger clubs would very much like to avoid and the smaller clubs will struggle to maintain. In other words, business as usual in this league.
Also in the soccer news, Sunderland AFC's ownership has responded to fan demands for a change in ownership by putting the club up for sale. "Given these circumstances, and Stewart Donald’s sincere commitment on his arrival at Sunderland AFC that “I won’t outstay my welcome”, the Board feels that it has no option but to sell the club. That process has now commenced. Owing to confidentiality agreements, there will be no further updates until a preferred bidder is identified."
Football 365's Matt Stead questions Manchester United's transfer startegy. The Times' Martyn Zeigler on what Chelsea paid after firing Antonio Conte after the 2017-18 season. CNN's Matias Grez reports on Liverpool's change in apparel provider. World Soccer's Paddy Agnew on the Serie A contenders. DW's Matt Pearson with new Bayern Munich board member and eventual chairperson Oliver Kahn's plans for the club. Marca's Jesus Mata works through the La Liga table.
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