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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Manchester United to cement their place as best of the rest behind City

Liverpool and Arsenal can join them in top four

Manchester United can consolidate second place behind City
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We still haven’t seen how Manchester City react to a defeat, but they haven’t even been outplayed yet so we could be waiting a while.

The Premier League has looked like a battle for second spot for some time and the position at the front of the chasing pack is Manchester United’s to lose.

As for the other places, I’m going to take Liverpool and Arsenal to fill the top four.

I’d rather be a backer of the Reds than a layer, though they still frustrate me and I speak as someone with a huge soft spot for them.

They are a club who have been blessed with good, occasionally great, sides for the best part of a decade – and all they’ve had to show for it is a single, meagre League Cup win. That’s not good enough.

So is it about mentality as much as managers? This season, for example, Liverpool have been outplayed only twice, once at Tottenham and before that at Manchester City when they had Sadio Mane sent off.

That means they’ve pretty much bossed 16 out of 18 matches – yet they find themselves 18 points off the top and even seven points behind second. That’s unforgivable and not easy to explain.

We’ve got the Fab Four this season, we had the Holy Trinity of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling when Steven Gerrard was coming to the end of his career. Liverpool have had these great attacking combos yet they still aren’t winning trophies.

Managers have to carry some of the blame. Jurgen Klopp must know he needs centre-backs and defensive midfielders. They don’t need to be the best in the world, they just need to improve the players around them and that improves the team.

What’s happened at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger over recent years is similar, though at least Gunners’ fans have seen their side win a few cups.

Wenger, like Klopp, has blind spots in the transfer market. But Wenger, also like Klopp, has a team capable of going on dazzling winning runs and that’s why I still believe the pair of them could finish above Chelsea and Tottenham.

There are issues at Chelsea which might not be easy to resolve. Of all the top teams they are the most reliant on one player, and if Eden Hazard has a bad day or gets injured they are immediately weaker.

Their squad isn’t the deepest and the same applies to Tottenham, who have been exposed without Toby Alderweireld, a top-class defender who is sorely missed.

Mauricio Pochettino is doing a tremendous job but with Champions League commitments, an already-thin squad is going to get stretched. The same is true of Chelsea.

Recommendations
Manchester United without Manchester City
8-11 Betfred
Liverpool top-four finish
8-11 Betfred
Arsenal top London club
7-2 Betway, Sky Bet

Premier League standings

Gabriel Jesus remains a decent price to finish as top goalscorer

Trust in Jesus to take his chances

Manchester City have been the Premier League's top scorers over the first half of the season and they’ll probably repeat that feat during part two of the campaign.

So, fitness permitting, it means that Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have got to be on any shortlists for the Golden Boot.

The price about Aguero probably went when he had his broken rib which didn’t turn into a crisis, though Jesus is interesting at 14-1.

With City having European commitments as well, Jesus will get his playing time and in City’s front three he’ll also get chances. He’s been involved in all but two of City’s league matches and has bagged eight goals.

The relegation battle looks wide open and if you take the view that the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham have made the managerial change necessary and will improve accordingly, that brings the likes of Newcastle, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Stoke into the frame.

Stoke could be in freefall. They don’t seem to know what kind of a side they want to be. Once upon a time, you laid the big clubs all day long when they visited Stoke, but no more.

Mark Hughes may be gone before next month's transfer window but it may take more than a change of manager to save a club on a downward spiral.

Recommendations
G Jesus top scorer
14-1 e-w general
Stoke to be relegated
5-2 general


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Wenger and Klopp have teams capable of going on dazzling winning runs
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