We have now reached the halfway point in the English and European football season, and with so much still to be decided, let’s take a look at what might happen come May.
It is looking increasingly likely that Manchester City are going to win their second Premier League title in a row and their fourth in five years.
Pep Guardiola’s side have got into a successful habit of breaking away from the rest of the chasing pack in the new year, perhaps owing to the staggering amount of depth they have in their squad.
This squad depth means that City are also in a good position to deal with Covid outbreaks and AFCON departures, unlike Liverpool and Chelsea, who have both struggled under the weight of lack of numbers in the squad over Christmas.
It can probably be said with some certainty that City will win the league this year, with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea finishing comfortably in the top four, securing Champions League football for next season.
But the final domestic Champions League spot looks like it could go to the wire with four clubs currently staking a genuine claim to be in that fourth spot.
West Ham United’s strong start to the season had them up in the top four for the first-half of the season, and a similar vein of form for David Moyes’ side in the latter half will see them over the line.
However, points started to shorten come December and with a Europa League campaign to come in February, you’d expect it’d be a big ask for the East London side to secure Champions League football next season.
North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have picked up form after struggling starts to the campaign. Mikel Arteta and Antonio Conte will both be able to put full focus into getting that fourth spot, with neither side playing in Europe post-Christmas, with only Spurs competing in the FA Cup as well as the league.
Ralf Ragnick will hope to turn a stuttering Manchester United’s season around, and will need to rely on Cristiano Ronaldo and summer signings Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho playing a key role in firing the Red Devils into a Champions League spot.
Bruno Lage and Brendan Rodgers will be harbouring hopes of European football next season for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City respectively, though the Europa League and Europa Conference League may be more realistic aims for them.
Graham Potter’s progressive brand of football is earning him plenty of plaudits, and the Seagulls will feel that a top-half finish will be a good platform for them to push on next season.
Aston Villa seem to be a different proposition with Steven Gerrard at the helm, and may still have faint hopes of playing in continental competition next season, but pushing for the top-half ahead of next season might be their best bet.
Southampton and Crystal Palace earn plenty of plaudits for their brand of football, but mid-table obscurity looks to be the height of their ambitions this season.
After a very positive start, Thomas Frank’s Brentford have struggled in mid-season and need to arrest a swift decline in results to keep themselves out of a relegation battle.
Leeds United seem to have gone the other way for Brentford, with results having recently taken a turn for the better, but they will need to iron out the inconsistencies, though they should have enough to stay up this season.
Everton have been in the top tier for 118 seasons of their history, but should they fail to appoint the right successor to Rafa Benitez (who had a catastrophic time in charge of the Toffees) they could find that record coming to a conclusion soon.
There are serious problems at Goodison Park, which could result in a freefall into the Championship this season.
However, the four serious contenders to drop into the Championship this season look to be Norwich City, Newcastle United, Watford and Burnley.
Burnley’s backlog of fixtures will either make or break their season, with the club having had five games postponed this season due to covid and weather circumstances.
However, for a team that have only won one game so far this season, their days in the Premier League could be numbered.
Watford will hope that Roy Hodgson (their third manager of the season) will reignite their season, but following a slump in form since Xisco Munoz was sacked, it is looking like it’ll be easier said than done to reverse the club’s fortunes.
Newcastle United simply cannot afford to get relegated this season, with the club’s new Saudi owners not wanting to deal with the prospect of at least one season outside of England’s top-flight.
The signings of Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood may be the difference between Championship and Premier League football for the toon next season.
Norwich City have become the new yo-yo club in recent seasons alongside Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, but they seem to be putting up more of a fight than they did in their last Premier League campaign.
In the Championship, Fulham look almost nailed on to make an immediate return to the Premier League, but there looks to be a six-way battle for that second promotion spot, between AFC Bournemouth, QPR, Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion, Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town.
Bournemouth probably have the best squad equipped for a promotion push, but the Championship throws up surprises every season, so don’t write off any of the other mentioned clubs yet.
After last season’s play-off semi-final appearance, it looks like Barnsley could be heading down into League One after a poor start to the season, with Peterborough United looking likely to join them.
Despite having a 21-point deduction, Derby County currently sit second from bottom in the Championship, with Wayne Rooney’s side putting in a tremendous fight to stay in the league, although the club’s existence is the biggest battle for the Rams this season.
Reading and Cardiff City will be looking over their shoulders precariously at the drop zone, but both should be well equipped to get over the line.
In League One, Wigan Athletic look to be favourites to get back into the Championship two years on from their relegations, amid a backdrop of financial concerns.
But just like the Championship, it is all still to play for in League One with Rotherham United, Sunderland, Wycombe Wanderers, Milton Keynes Dons, Oxford United, Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday all harbouring hopes of playing Championship football next season.
Gillingham’s season looks as good as over, with relegation to League Two becoming an inevitability, but there are ten other clubs who will anxiously be looking over their shoulder to avoid relegation to the bottom tier of the EFL.
Speaking of the fourth tier, Forest Green Rovers, Tranmere Rovers and Northampton Town sit in pole position to be playing in League One next season, but Sutton United, Newport County, Swindon Town, Mansfield Town, Exeter City and Port Vale all have a genuine shot at promotion through the automatic/play-off positions this season.
Oldham Athletic and Scunthorpe United already look dead and buried for at least a season in non-league come 2022/23.
In the continental competitions, it really is anybody’s to play for, but your best bet would be a Premier League winner for the third time in four years.
Manchester City look best placed to balance Champions League and domestic commitments and will be desperate to avenge their final defeat at the hands of Chelsea last season.
Both Chelsea and Liverpool will be going full pelt in the competition, with both clubs probably thinking Champions League success is more within reach than the Premier League title.
Other clubs to look out for are: Paris Saint-Germain, desperate for that first Champions League success, as well as Bayern Munich, who are one of the finest sides in Europe at the moment.
Whilst Real Madrid do not have the finest team in their history by any stretch of the imagination, the Spanish giants have a knack for winning this competition no matter the strength of their side, so they cannot be ruled out.
Barcelona’s pursuit of the Europa League will be the main story in Europe’s second-tier competition, but they face stiff opposition off the bat in the form of Serie A title challengers Napoli.
Borussia Dortmund are probably the most likely winners of the competition depending on how seriously they take it, and on how far the Bundesliga title race goes to the wire.
Sevilla seem to win this competition most times they are in it, so will be in the favourites category, alongside Atalanta, who are quickly becoming one of Europe’s most unlikely exciting times.
West Ham are the Premier League’s sole representatives in the competition and are already in the last 16 of the competition having won their group.
David Moyes’ side will fancy themselves against any of the aforementioned sides if they can replicate their early season form, but a quarter-final appearance would represent an excellent campaign for the Irons.
In the UEFA Europa Conference League’s first season, Jose Mourinho’s Roma are the early favourites to lift the trophy, but Leicester City (the Premier League’s only representatives) will fancy themselves against some of the more obscure European names.
Marseille and Rennes of France will feel they have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy, whilst PSV and Feyenoord represent the Netherlands’ best chance of European success.
The second-half of the season promises to be as unpredictable as ever, so keep your eyes glued on each domestic league as we anticipate an exciting conclusion to the 2021/22 season!