The Premier League season is coming to an end and the race for first place is still up in the air.
Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool have surprised many (if not all) by defying preseason odds and rocketing to the league’s summit. Chelsea and Manchester City will still have a say as to who will be crowned champions in May.
Arsenal, once again, seem to be fighting for their Champions League lives until the last day of the season. The Gunners’ adversary for the final European position isn’t Manchester United or Tottenham; it is Roberto Martinez and his inspired Everton squad.
The Premier League relegation battle will be fought out between a number of teams, some of which were expected to be in their current positions by soccer experts prior to the start of the 2013-14 BPL season.
Last August, if someone were to tell you that Sunderland, Cardiff City, Fulham, and Norwich City were all expected to be struggling for their top flight lives until the dying days of the season, most fans wouldn’t be shocked.
What would surprise Premier League experts and fans is the omission of Crystal Palace from the relegation tussle. Especially after their manager, Ian Holloway, quit in October after eight league matches in which Palace only mustered three points (a home win against Sunderland).
But Crystal Palace’s start left no one astonished. The newly promoted side was unanimously expected to be sent right back to the Championship prior to the start of the season because most agreed that their squad was full of players who just weren’t Premier League quality. But London club’s current position on the Premier League table is absolutely staggering.
Three teams and three managers have propelled themselves to the back pages of newspapers (for the right reasons): Liverpool and Rodgers, Everton and Roberto Martinez, Tony Pulis and Crystal Palace.
As well as their on-the-field successes, these club and manager pairings will take center stage in one of the most competitive races for Premier League Manager of the Year in some time.
Here are the top three candidates:
Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool
Prior to the start of the season, Liverpool were expected to compete for a top four position. Aside from their Merseyside supporters, most expected the Reds to battle it out with Arsenal and Tottenham for fourth place and the final Champions League position. Whether or not, Rodgers had enough tactical ability or on-the-field quality to compete with Chelsea, both Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham was a source of constant debate.
And with Liverpool starting the season with their best player Luis Suarez suspended for the first six games of the season; it made things even more difficult for Rodgers.
But Liverpool did something untypical of squads previously managed by Rodgers — they grinded out results. And when Suarez finally returned from suspension, the goals began pouring in and the Merseyside club went on a run leading into its first top four encounter against Arsenal at the Emirates.
What followed was a disappointing 2-0 defeat to the Gunners. The loss cemented in many minds that Liverpool were still a club that wasn’t ready for a top four challenge and were in no way a challenger for the Premier League’s top spot.