It will be 2020 the next time a ball in kicked in Premier League action, making the tales at both ends of the table feel more serious.
We’ll save the relegation talk for another day. For one thing, wild point swings and droughts in the bottom half of the table are a lot more common than the top.
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The table enters January in a weird place. Everton and Arsenal face double-digit distances from the Top Four and aren’t even making this post. That’s not to say the Gunners nor Toffees aren’t capable, but we can revisit their statuses if they get to a new level.
First off, look at Liverpool: That 13-point lead with a match of hand is striking. Good night. Congrats. Barring a red wedding more grisly than Game of Thrones, we’ve got new Premier League overlords.
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Leicester City: There are legitimate reasons to suspect the Foxes could lose their seemingly significant foothold in the Top Four. For one thing, they are the luckiest team in the league not named Liverpool or Newcastle according to the xG table.
As silly as this sounds, though, January is Leicester’s last legitimate obstacle. The Foxes have at least seven games in January thanks to a pair of League Cup semifinal dates and an FA Cup quarterfinal (eight if they beat Wigan as expected).
Brendan Rodgers showed us that his men can handle poor teams with a B team when they beat West Ham on Saturday. The other teams on January’s docket: Newcastle, Wigan (FA Cup), Aston Villa x2 (League Cup), Southampton, Burnley, West Ham.
They need to stack enough points to make February’s three-match stretch versus Chelsea, Wolves, and Man City navigable. It’s going to be a battle for fourth, but the lack of European action helps them in a big way.
Man City: The two-time reigning champs will also face a busy month, but they’re used to that. Up ahead are Everton, Port Vale (FA Cup), Manchester United x2 (League Cup), Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, and Sheffield United. If Aymeric Laporte returns and there are no major injuries, City should finish second. Even focusing on the Champions League, they’ll finish Top Four with ease barring some sort of injury plague (which they’ve already handled to some extent).
Chelsea: The Blues’ four league matches are Brighton away, Burnley home, Newcastle away, and Arsenal home. An FA Cup date with Nottingham Forest shouldn’t be a huge issue, either, though the Reds are doing alright in the Championship. Chelsea is likely to spend big this January after a summer without additions, and the Blues feel like a safe bet to deliver third.
Man Utd: This is a rough month for the Red Devils, beginning with a visit to Arsenal on Wednesday. The cup draws weren’t kind to them, with Wolves in the FA Cup and two Manchester Derbies in the League Cup. There’s also a visit to Liverpool between Norwich City and Burnley league dates. Tough one. The League Cup derbies and January transfer action will tell us a lot about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s bunch.
Spurs: Three bottom-half opponents and a visit from Liverpool make for a promising month, as Jose Mourinho can collect a statement win and a place in fourth. It’s away to Boro in the FA Cup, so there’s likely a sixth game depending on how Mourinho wants to play it. Spurs will be right in the thick of it come February.
Wolves: Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are used to schedule congestion, so they may feel bored by just five January matches. Watford away, Newcastle home, Saints away, and Liverpool at home will make for a promising slate to go with a visit from Manchester United in the FA Cup. At some point it feels like Wolves will run out of gas due to their insane UEL run, but they’ll be alive for the Top Four entering February.
Sheffield United: Chris Wilder‘s men have surpassed all expectations this season, but January may be a bridge too far. The Blades have trips to Liverpool and Arsenal to go with visits from West Ham and Man City. The FA Cup tie versus Fylde will be less of an issue. It’s difficult to bet against the Blades on current form, but logic says they’ll fall off a bit.