Premier League still has plenty to offer despite Man City title procession

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Manchester City's win over Arsenal on New Year's Day saw them take a giant step towards retaining their Premier League title

Manchester City’s win over Arsenal on New Year’s Day saw them take a giant step towards retaining their Premier League title (Picture: Getty)

A country swept by omicron, a football season awash with postponements made for reasons less clear than the January sky.

And when games actually take place, a Premier League table in which Manchester City seem increasingly unstoppable, Norwich incapable of winning a game and the likes of Newcastle and Burnley unable to rid themselves of the fear of relegation.

Despite all of that and amid the gloom, there are chinks of light, shards of optimism both for our clubs and fans as a whole. So even if your team is struggling, here are our reasons to be cheerful.

Anthony Gordon, Everton

Everton youngster Anthony Gordon looks a real prospect

Everton youngster Anthony Gordon looks a real prospect (Picture: Getty)

It wasn’t going to be the manager, was it? To be fair to Rafa Benitez, budget summer signings Andros Townsend and, in particular, Demarai Gray have been pleasant surprises but the real saving grace of a season teetering on the brink of crisis is Gordon. The teenage forward has impressed with his enterprise, skill and desire to attack while more senior names have shrunk from the challenge. A talent from wherever he had hailed, but earns huge bonus points for being ‘one of our own’.

Maxwel Cornet, Burnley

Burnley's survival hopes are likely to rest with Maxwel Cornet

Burnley’s survival hopes are likely to rest with Maxwel Cornet (Picture: Getty)

After years of surviving on meat and potatoes, Burnley fans suddenly find themselves in real relegation trouble with just one win from their first 17 games and yet feasting on the rich dish that is Cornet. The Ivory Coast midfielder, currently away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, has scored six of the Clarets’ 16 league goals and brought a level of flair to Turf Moor not readily associated with Sean Dyche signings.

Antonio Conte, Tottenham

Antonio Conte’s return to the Premier League has been most welcome (Picture: Getty)

Humiliated in the Europa Conference League, falling behind to Morecambe in the FA Cup and outclassed by Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-finals, it has not been a great year for Tottenham, even before we talk about Harry Kane or Tanguy Ndombele. And yet, somehow, a team which began the season under the underwhelming leadership of Nuno Espirito Santo is now led by one of the most successful managers in modern football. Providing a lack of January business does not cause a fracture in the Italian’s relationship with Daniel Levy, Spurs’ future looks a lot brighter than their present.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, Arsenal

Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have driven Arsenal's revival

Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have driven Arsenal’s revival (Picture: Getty)

FA Cup upsets aside, things do not look so bad on the other side of the north London divide either. Post-Euro 2020 despair, Saka has graduated from nation’s sweetheart to his club’s most reliable source of attacking inspiration. His old youth-team mucker Smith Rowe has also broken into the England squad on the back of a season which has seen him score eight times in the Premier League, despite often starting on the bench. Arsenal have a homegrown attacking heart which should beat strongly for years to come.

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Mike Ashley, Newcastle

Optimism returned to St James’ Park following Mike Ashley’s departure (Picture: Getty)

Yes, you were humiliated in the FA Cup by League One strugglers Cambridge. Yes, throwing around Saudi petro-dollars in an attempt to bolster your team against the threat of relegation is proving harder than you expected. And yes, the background and deeds of your new ownership group is really not to everybody’s taste but Newcastle are no longer owned by Ashley. And, for many fans, that appears to be enough to be happy about for the time being.

FA Cup third-round, Saturday

Cambridge United secured a famous FA Cup win over Newcastle last weekend (Picture: Getty)

The romance/magic of the FA Cup often feels more like a phrase from the commentator’s big book of tired cliches rather than a tangible concept, but that all changed last Saturday afternoon. Whether you were listening to the radio, watching the scores go in on the television or following events on your phone, the excitement of Cambridge’s win at Newcastle, Kidderminster’s triumph over Reading and Barnsley’s completely nuts 5-4 victory against Barrow will live long in the memory. The fact all three games happened concurrently, having been overlooked for live television coverage and kicked off at 3pm, only added some old-school FA Cup enjoyment.

David De Gea, Manchester United

David de Gea has been back to his best this season (Picture: Getty)

Good news at Old Trafford? Seriously. And rather than the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, it is the slightly more mobile De Gea who has given United fans one reason to celebrate. The Spaniard ended last season the butt of jokes, unable to save ten penalties in the Europa League final shoot-out with Villarreal before compounding matters by missing the crucial kick himself. He then spent Euro 2020 on the bench having lost his status as Spain No.1 to Unai Simon — a familiar view with Dean Henderson having usurped De Gea as United’s first-choice in the league by the end of the season. Yet this term De Gea is back in the United team and back towards his commanding 2013-2018 peak. Which is just as well given some of the dross being served up in front of him.

Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace

Patrick Vieira has Crystal Palace fans looking upwards again (Picture: Getty)

With a beloved manager ushered into retirement and a host of long-serving stalwart players out of contract, Crystal Palace faced a very uncertain future last summer. Things could have gone very wrong (remember Frank de Boer?) and still might. But so far, so good under Vieira, with the ex-Arsenal star implementing a more attacking style of play and integrating promising young talents like Marc Guehi, Michael Olise and Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher into his enterprising new team.

Raphinha, Leeds United

It’s been no surprise to see Raphinha linked with Bayern Munich and Liverpool (Picture: Getty)

Amid a blizzard of injuries to key players and lingering doubts as to whether the wonderful journey Leeds have enjoyed under the beloved Marcelo Bielsa may be nearing its end, Raphinha has emerged as the shining light at Elland Road. Signed in October 2020 for around £17m — a fee dwarfed by that paid for fellow forward Rodrigo — the former Rennes man has scored eight league goals this term, two more than he managed in his first season at the club, and broken into the Brazil team.

A fair bet to depart in the summer, the quicksilver attacker will leave Leeds with a heap of happy memories and no doubt a huge profit.

David Moyes, West Ham

David Moyes has West Ham challenging for fourth place (Picture: Getty)

Rarely described as a ray of sunshine, Moyes has proved to be exactly that during his second spell in east London. The Scot has shown last season’s qualification for Europe was not a glorious one-off, building a hard-working, consistent team full of hungry players who continue to get better under his watch. For Moyes, it is also personal vindication for a career in apparent decline since he swapped Everton for Manchester United in 2013.

Emmanuel Dennis, Watford

Emmanuel Dennis has been on fire for Watford this season (Picture: Getty)

Signs of encouragement at Vicarage Road are as hard to find as clean sheets these days. And yet, in Nigeria striker Dennis — signed from Club Brugge for a bargain £3.4m last summer — fans at least have something to get excited about. The bustling 24-year-old has proven a real handful for top-flight defences, scoring eight times while missing just one game — form which prompted Watford to resist Nigeria’s attempts to call him up for the Africa Cup of Nations. If the Hornets are to survive, the goals of Dennis will be key.

Ben Chilwell and Reece James, Chelsea

Ben Chilwell and Reece James both suffered serious injuries when they were bang in form (Picture: GettY)

If Chelsea are unable close the ten-point gap to Manchester City at the top of the table they may rue the mid-season loss of their marauding England wing-backs. A Euro 2020 hangover forced Chilwell to wait until October for his first appearance in the league but the left-sided flyer had three goals in six appearances before suffering a season-ending knee injury at the end of November. James had four goals in 16 games before injury interrupted his own season a month later. Out for two months, Blues fans can at least look forward to his return before the season’s end, although by then it may be too late.


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