As we cross the half-way mark of Premier League fixtures, the division remains extremely open.
While few would be surprised to see the likes of defending champions Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City occupying top-four spots midway through January, there are a number of surprise narratives emerging from an enthralling 2020/21 top-flight campaign – not least that Leicester City currently top the division.
With shock results occurring more often than usual this season, casual punters and full-time tipsters alike are enjoying a season full of shocks in England’s premier football competition. Interested in having a flutter yourself? Look no further, as with the help from our good friends over at leading sports betting website bet22 (follow this link for bet22 registration) we outline a few of the division’s dark horses to watch out for over the next five months.
4. Aston Villa
OK, fair enough, Dean Smith’s Villans are not likely to contend for a Champions League spot this season, but they have experienced a remarkable upturn in fortunes in the current campaign.
The 2019/20 season was the midlands side’s first back in the top-flight since 2015/16, and they were on the brink of an immediate return to the Championship, marooned four points adrift of safety with only four fixtures left to play, but two wins and two draws from their final fixtures, including a 1-0 victory over Arsenal in their penultimate fixture, secured survival by a solitary point.
The Villa did not rest on their laurels, converting that end of season form into a blistering start to the 2020/21 campaign. They began their season with four consecutive wins, including a stunning 7-2 victory over Premier League champions Liverpool at Villa Park, with summer signing Ollie Watkins bagging a hat-trick.
At the time of writing, Villa sit firmly mid-table, just eight points off the top four but do have a few games in hand on the rest due to a recent Covid-19 outbreak at the club. Can the likes of star player Jack Grealish inspire Villa to an unlikely title challenge?
Speaking of turnarounds, Dean Smith’s Villa have followed somewhat in the footsteps of south coast side Southampton, whose decision to stand firmly behind manager Ralph Hasenhüttl looks to have been an inspired decision.
Just 12 months ago, the Saints found themselves in a scrap for survival, and the natives were restless – with good reason, having witnessed their side lose 9-0 at home to Leicester City.
Hasenhüttl, though led his side to a superb turnaround in the second half of the season to finish well clear of the relegation spots in 11th, unbeaten in their final seven games.
That form, built on the bedrock of one of the division’s leading defensive units, has carried through to 2020/21, with the Saints topping the table earlier in the campaign. With eye-catching victories over the likes of Liverpool already in the bag, Hasenhüttl’s charges sit in ninth position, on the coat-tails of the European qualification places.
Toffees manager Carlo Ancelotti, whose CV boasts spells as manager of a number of Europe’s biggest clubs – including Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Juventus, celebrated a year in charge of the Merseysiders on 21st December, with the Goodison Park club sitting inside the top-six.
Everton were broadly considered to have underachieved last time out, given their resources and squad, but even the most optimistic of Toffees could not have expected their team to be top of the table after six fixtures.
Summer signing James Rodriguez, who arrived on a free transfer from Real Madrid, and top-scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin led an early charge of four consecutive wins, before a hotly-contested Merseyside derby ended 2-2, with Calvert-Lewin rescuing a point at Goodison Park.
A tricky run of four defeats from the next five fixtures followed for Ancelotti’s men, but they balanced out with victories against Chelsea, Leicester City, Arsenal, and Wolverhampton Wanderers to sit comfortably inside the Europa League qualification places.
1. Leicester City
Any list of Premier League dark horses would not be complete without a mention for Leicester City, who stunned the footballing world to win the title in 2016, despite starting the season as relegation favourites. Can they do it again this season?
Since then, the Foxes have been remarkably consistent, and are now considered a legitimate top-four contender. Last season, they sat in Champions League qualification positions for 33 of the 38 game weeks, but fell short on the final weekend, finishing fifth after home defeat to Manchester United.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have not let that disappointment linger for long, though, and a rampant start to the 2020/21 campaign, including a breath-taking display of counter-attacking football in a 5-2 away win at Manchester City.
Evidencing remarkable consistency, the Foxes currently lie top of the Premier League table after a convincing 2-0 win over struggling Chelsea on Tuesday night. Can lightning strike twice?
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