Opinion is split among the Sky Sports' writers as we make the case for and against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool winning the Premier League title; follow midweek games with our live blogs and watch free match highlights shortly after full-time
Wednesday 1 December 2021 08:23, UK
With Manchester City and Liverpool winning at the weekend while leaders Chelsea could only draw at home to Manchester United, only two points separate the Premier League top three.
But which club will claim the title at the end of the season?
We assess the cases for and against the three contenders before sharing the opinions of our writers…
The advantage is with Chelsea at the moment as they are top of the Premier League table, supremely organised and with remarkable squad depth. Jorginho's error robbed them of a clean sheet against Manchester United but it was only the fifth goal conceded this season.
Thomas Tuchel has established a system that seems fluid regardless of personnel and that is a huge weapon when the squad is as stocked as this. Twenty-four different players have started a Premier League game for Chelsea this season. They have youth and experience.
The second half of Chelsea's season is not without its complication given their involvement in the Club World Cup in February as a result of being the reigning European champions. Games against Brighton and Arsenal are likely to be rearranged, causing fixture congestion.
Will they be able to negotiate that while Liverpool and Manchester City continue to push? There are fewer Premier League winners in the Chelsea squad. A true title race will be a new experience for some and a stern examination if nerves are tested in the spring.
The reigning Premier League champions are favourites with the bookmakers and as the only team in the competition to win their last three games they are now only one point off the lead. We are approaching the time of year when City clicked into gear last time around.
That 21-game winning run in all competitions last season blew away the competition and with the distraction of the international breaks behind them, there is always the possibility that Pep Guardiola's side will find their rhythm and begin churning out the victories.
The hope for their rivals stems from those rare slips. The shock 2-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace. The failures to score in losing to Tottenham and drawing with Southampton. Those off-days never spark a crisis but tossing away points could be costly in a tight title race.
Perhaps surprisingly, Chelsea and Liverpool have both outscored City this season. While the talk of a need for a genuine striker is frequently made to look foolish as opponents are thrashed, that nagging concern will remain until and unless the title is retained.
Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool saw their title hopes collapse spectacularly last winter as injuries at the back undermined them but they are a force once more and in stunning form after back-to-back four-goal wins at Anfield. They are the Premier League top scorers by a distance.
Three of the four individual top scorers in the Premier League wear Liverpool red and with Mohamed Salah in this form they know how to win consistently. Prior to last season's blip this group once won 110 points over a 38-game period - 36 wins and two draws.
Nobody expects those giddy heights to be reached again. Even recently, there have been lapses. High-scoring draws with Brighton and Brentford. Losing to West Ham in a five-goal thriller. Liverpool remain as potent as any team around but there are vulnerabilities now.
There is also the disruption of the Africa Cup of Nations in January. That is of particular significance to Liverpool given that it will see Salah and Sadio Mane depart for Cameroon. It is a concern for Klopp. Could it be decisive?
January 2 2022 – Chelsea vs Liverpool
January 15 2022 – Man City vs Chelsea
April 9 2022 – Man City vs Liverpool
Chelsea will be kicking themselves for not taking four more points from their past two Premier League home games against Burnley and Manchester United. But regardless, with more than a third of the season gone, they're top of the Premier League and my pre-season selection are looking serious contenders for the title.
Their standout statistic is the five goals they've conceded in 13 games. It's the best record in the division and two of those goals were penalties. Edouard Mendy may have made a rare mistake against Manchester United on Sunday, giving Fred the chance to win it, but he has otherwise been exceptional for the Blues, with a mean defence, led by Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger, ahead of him. It's that kind of foundation titles are built on.
But it has been the work of Chelsea's defenders on the front foot which has been just as impressive. Reece James - one of the Premier League's best players this season - is top scorer and has four goals and four assists from right wing-back. He exemplifies the team's excellence in execution of Thomas Tuchel's system, while Ben Chilwell was providing real threat down the other flank before his serious knee injury.
Rudiger could have clinched three points in injury-time on Sunday but he has scored twice already for a defensive unit which has contributed almost half of the Blues' 31 goals.
The injury to Chilwell was a blow and, although Marcos Alonso has come back into the side, it could be an area to address in January. But with Romelu Lukaku and N'Golo Kante hoping to soon build up a run of games after recent injury issues, the midfield and attacking units are set to improve and the feeling is this Chelsea team should get stronger during the busy Christmas period.
After the festivities come the pivotal Premier League games, with Liverpool at home and Manchester City away, either side of a FA Cup third-round tie, at the start of January. If Chelsea are still top after that, then they really will take some stopping.
I find it hard to go against City, having been stung in the past. They're quietly going about their business and never seem to let outside voices in.
While you could argue Chelsea have a marginally better defence, and Liverpool have more power up front, Manchester City have the best all-round balance, and the fewest weak spots. That I met their 2-1 win over a very good West Ham with a shrug of the shoulders says it all.
Thomas Tuchel has worked wonders at Chelsea, but his record of two defeats, two draws and just one goal scored at home against big-six opposition concerns me.
I can't get City's 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in September out of my head; they were just magnificent in every department, and when it comes to the biggest Premier League games, it's difficult to go against them.
And while Liverpool are exhilarating to watch with their 'you have a go, we'll have a go' philosophy, even Jurgen Klopp admits they concede too many chances. That's before we get on to the impact of AFCON; Sadio Mane and Mo Salah could be missing for up to four games in the new year, and though City could be missing Riyad Mahrez, ready-made replacements are clearer to see.
City are a ruthless machine with so many routes to goal. Like the bookies - they are odds on for a fourth title in five years - I can't see past them.
I was a lone voice when I predicted Liverpool to regain the title the last time we sat around the table and discussed this topic back in August, but I've seen no reason to change my mind now 13 league games down the line. The fire still burns brightly within Jurgen Klopp, witnessed during his side's recent 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal, and his players continue to set new records.
Liverpool have scored two or more goals in 17 consecutive games, the first top-flight team to do that since Sunderland in 1927, and their most recent disembowelment of meek Premier League opposition - another 4-0 win at home to Southampton - could so easily have been more.
Of course, their hopes of a second Premier League title in three seasons has to be viewed within the context of their title rivals, but the "arrogance" shown in Chelsea's defending during their 1-1 draw with Manchester United, as Roy Keane described it, is something that Thomas Tuchel will be desperate to eradicate.
Manchester City showed why they entered the season undercooked in their opening defeat at Tottenham, but while they have dropped points at home to Southampton and Crystal Palace, they have looked formidable at times.
Pep Guardiola has described the prospect of embarking on another 15-match winning streak as pure "fantasy", but given how the top three are accelerating away, I feel it will come down to who comes out on top in a three-way head-to-head between these title protagonists.
Luckily for Liverpool, none of these games are likely to take place when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita are away on international duty during the Africa Cup of Nations between January and February next year. Fifa regulations stipulate that players must be released by their clubs on December 27 - 13 days before the tournament's first match.
Liverpool face Leicester on December 28 and visit Chelsea on January 2 but there is a strong possibility their African players could be given dispensation to join up with their national squads at a later date depending on what can be agreed with their clubs.
Should Klopp be granted this best-case scenario, he has enough in reserve to absorb those losses in fixtures at home to Brentford and away at Crystal Palace. Conversely, it's worth pointing out that City host Chelsea on January 15, when Edouard Mendy will be away with Senegal.
Palace have got a better expected goals against record than Chelsea this season but have conceded 14 more actual goals than them - a large reason for that has been the performances of Mendy, but Chelsea will have to call upon Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Replacing Salah and Mane simultaneously has been seen as the one major caveat to Liverpool's chances, but Klopp will have a plan ready for those respective fixtures at a time when Tuchel faces arguably his toughest test of the season.
On the latest Essential Football Podcast Alice Piper is joined by Sky Sports football writers Gerard Brand and Ben Grounds to look back on another big weekend at both ends of the Premier League table after Chelsea's lead slipped following a 1-1 draw with Man Utd at Stamford Bridge.
PART 1 | Was Michael Carrick right to opt against starting Cristiano Ronaldo - and should United have signed him at all? United's interim-to-the-interim manager's tactics are assessed ahead of Ralph Rangnick's arrival, questions raised over Chelsea's attacking prowess, while will Arsenal fancy facing this United side next given their own form?
PART 2 | Where does another bad result at Brentford leave Everton boss Rafa Benitez ahead of the Merseyside derby in midweek? Do Liverpool have anything to fear? And the curious case of Marcelo Bielsa and Kalvin Phillips...
PART 3 | Newcastle show Eddie Howe the scale of the task ahead of him with a six-pointer against Norwich next up, Aston Villa grind their way to victory again - and with two points separating the top three, who's going to win the Premier League?
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