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    Four Things That Every Title Winning Team Needs



    Coming up to Christmas, the league table is beginning to take some shape with Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City leading the pack. Tottenham could easily have been included in this list as well, but I decided against it as they are a little behind the top four at the moment. Hopefully they prove me wrong. Picking one of these is not an easy task with so long to go this season but by looking at the key ingredients that all Premier League title-winners need, we can pit them against each other and see which are better equipped for a sustained challenge.

    A Solid Defence

    It’s simple: if the opposition don’t score, you don’t lose. There have only been five occasions in Premier League history where a title winning team hasn’t also had one of the top three best defences in the league. The only time this has happened since the turn of the millennium was when Manchester United last claimed the title in 2013.


    Chelsea’s new 3-4-3 system works due to the versatility of their back three and midfield four. Cahill, Luiz and Azpilicueta are all fluid defenders comfortable covering wide areas and the two central midfielders (normally Kanté and Matic) are comfortable at filling in to central areas to cover the defensive three should they be dragged out of position. They are disciplined but are also both capable at spraying passes around the pitch, keeping the tempo up and starting attacks; Matic and Fabregas particularly excel at this.

    For Arsenal, a lot of their defensive capability lies in their goalkeeper. Petr Cech famously learns the basic commands of all of his defenders’ native tongues in order to give out clear instructions. There are few goalkeepers who command their areas and are as vocal as the Czech goalkeeper and with more than a decade between the sticks in the Premier League, his experience is vital. Hector Bellerin’s injury may expose Arsenal’s lack of sufficient cover at the back but overall, the Gunners have looked solid this season.

    As seen by their capitulation against Bournemouth yesterday, Liverpool are still coming up short at the back. They have certainly been more solid of late, but it would be hard to imagine a Chelsea or Arsenal loss after being 3-1 up with 15 minutes to go. They should have shut up shop and seen out the win.

    For Manchester City, the near constant absence of Vincent Kompany has been a massive blow. He was their key vocal leader, with Nicolas Otamendi still learning the league and John Stones being only 23 years old. Unless somebody steps up to the plate and takes that defence by the scruff of the neck, the defensive issues will most likely continue.

    Winners: Chelsea, Arsenal

     
    Petr Cech has won four Premier League titles since Arsenal's 2004 triumph


    A Main Striker:

    For every title winning team, there has always been a main central striker. Manchester United had Cantona, Van Nistelrooy, Rooney and Van Persie, Arsenal had Henry, Blackburn had Shearer, Chelsea had Drogba and Manchester City have Aguero. They guarantee goals and are often the key difference between a nervy draw and a smash and grab three points.

    Watching the Manchester City vs. Chelsea game on Saturday showed what Diego Costa is all about. The blues had very little of the game before Costa turned it on its head on the hour mark, making a goal out of a half chance. Having that outlet up front can be lethal. Intricate, fast paced football played on the floor is a joy to watch for any football fan but sometimes a measured long ball to a striker is crucial to relieve pressure and get the opposition facing their own goal. This is exactly what Chelsea did for Costa’s goal.

    Arsenal can now do this as well with Olivier Giroud being used as an impact sub. Bringing on the Frenchman offers a new dimension. Giroud has not started a premier league game yet but has still managed to score three goals in seven appearances. Subbing on a target man creates a whole host of problems for the opposition. After facing someone such as Sanchez who likes to drop back in to the midfield, a defender’s worst nightmare would be having to change their mind set to combatting a physical, 6ft 4in battering ram who plays on the shoulder.

    Manchester City don’t have a target man but in Aguero they still have that central forward outlet guaranteed to grab goals at crucial stages in games. The Argentine has scored sixteen goals in nineteen games this season and was looking at his lethal best before he decided to cut David Luiz in half. City also have an able deputy to Aguero in the promising, clinical Kelechi Iheanacho. Iheanacho and Aguero grab goals at crucial times in games for City.

    This could potentially be Liverpool’s downfall. Admittedly, they are effective going forward at the moment and goals are coming from all over the pitch but there will be games where the likes of Firmino, Coutinho, Lallana and Mane may be stifled by ‘park the bus’ tactics. Liverpool could certainly buck the trend, Spain won Euro 2012 without a conventional striker, but generally in the Premier League having an out and out, central striker has been crucial for title winning teams. Origi and Sturridge would be the obvious options of an out and out striker, but injuries and inexperience of leading a front line expose the weaknesses Liverpool have in this area.

    Winners: Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal

     
    Diego Costa leads the Premier League scoring charts with Alexis Sanchez on 11 goals


    Big Game Performances

    Beating the teams around you is vital in a relegation battle, but big game performances are also key to any title winning team. It might not be enough to win the league but if a team consistently performs against their immediate rivals they stand a great chance of being there or thereabouts.

    Arsenal have been ridiculed in the past decade for choking in big games, but a comfortable 3-0 win against Chelsea in September could be a turning point. They seem to have a bit more steel about them these days, but until they face a true challenge you can never be certain. There are a few players in that team who still tend to start hiding when the chips are down. Despite this, they are unbeaten since the opening day so it will be interesting to see how they fare against Manchester City when they face up in a fortnight.

    Since the system change, Chelsea have looked imperious whoever they have faced. The win against Manchester City at the weekend showed that they have what it takes to go all the way. Their 4-0 demolition of Manchester United and 2-1 win vs. Spurs were also impressive, although the United result was as much down to how lacklustre the Red Devils were. However, they were comfortably beaten by Arsenal earlier in the season and also lost at home to Liverpool. Although these were before they changed formation, they may end up coming back to haunt them. They must get positive results against Liverpool at Anfield and against Arsenal and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. If they do this, few can bet against them.

    It is difficult to assess how City have performed in big games with them yet to play many. They managed to win the Manchester derby and also registered an impressive win over Barcelona. But the losses against Spurs and Chelsea showed their weaknesses. Against Spurs, they were deservedly beaten. Against Chelsea, they were exposed by an effective counter attack. It’s moments like Kevin De Bruyne’s miss at 1-0 that ‘big game performances’ are all about. It may be a little harsh but these losses show that City are far from the finished article.

    Liverpool seem to have a knack of turning up for the big games. They have registered away wins at Arsenal and Chelsea and their high pressure football makes them a constant threat. What Klopp seems to have created is a siege mentality amongst his players; they fight for every ball and are truly behind the style of play the manager wants to implement. This will be essential when, in March, they face both Arsenal and Manchester City. Six points there could be the difference between settling for a Champions League spot and pushing for the title.

    Winners: Liverpool

    Liverpool are unbeaten against Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea since Jurgen Klopp took over last October


    Experience of a Title Fight

    Having an experience of the twists and turns of a title race can pay dividends. For example, until it was mathematically impossible for them to win the league, you would never count Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United out of a late title surge. It’s that staying power and ability to never know when you’re beaten that can set these teams apart.

    Many may write Liverpool off for their lack of knowhow but in James Milner and their manager Jurgen Klopp, there is the experience of winning titles in the past. Liverpool are a generally youthful squad and this can work either way for them. Young players tend to go in to games with no fear. They go out and play their game, making them unpredictable. The occasion can get to a young squad though and a wise head is vital in order to steady the ship and drag a team through difficult games. With that leader, Liverpool would be many people’s favourites but at the moment they look to be lacking here.

    Manchester City are one of the best equipped teams in this sense. Guardiola is arguably the most successful manager of his generation, so he will be hoping to transfer this in to an English title. They still have a good bulk of the squad that were involved in previous title wins. If Vincent Kompany was consistently fit for City, they would unquestionably have what it takes. I still rate him as one of the best leaders in the Premier League and with him in the squad, this already well equipped side would have a wealth of title experience unparalleled by any other club. Without him, there is still enough for City to go all the way.

    Their manager, goalkeeper and an injured Danny Welbeck aside, this Arsenal side have little experience of a sustained title push in the Premier League. Leicester City won the league last year with no experience though so this isn’t necessarily a hindrance for Arsenal. However, their continual post-Christmas meltdown cannot be allowed to happen again. If they overcome that unscathed by March, their games against Liverpool and Manchester City will be huge. However, it is possible that their annual capitulation may have left them out of the race by then.


    Chelsea only won the league 19 months ago, but given their embarrassing 2015-16 showing, that feels like a distant memory. This may play on the players’ minds, but they still undoubtedly have a host of title winning experience. Most of the squad remains from the 2014-15 title triumph, and the introduction of N’Golo Kanté is but another example of a player who has gone the distance. This side have a wealth of experience when it comes to a sustained push.

    Winners: Chelsea, Manchester City
    Vincent Kompany has featured only five times this season due to injury

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    Item Reviewed: Four Things That Every Title Winning Team Needs Rating: 5 Reviewed By: George Kelsey
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