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With the constant barrage of football, will squad depth decide the Premier League this season?

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives indelibly in so many ways and football is no different. On December 13, the Premier League announced 42 new positive cases among players and club staff, which is the highest weekly figure recorded since testing results started being released in May of last year. Both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United had to close down their training grounds and postpone fixtures due to outbreaks within the squad and staff and low vaccination rates among players suggest these instances will not be the last we see this season. On top of that, the fixture pile-up at this time of year, the Euros being delayed and the upcoming African Cup of Nations, having good strength in depth is vital for the clubs pursuing a title challenge. It is currently extremely tight at the top between Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool and squad depth could well be the thing that wins the league for one of these teams. According to odds sourced by GamblingDeals, Man City are 4/6 to win the title, Liverpool at 3/1 and Chelsea are 5/1. It really is anyone’s call at the moment, and the odds reflect that. Each team will have to rely on their depth to continue the fast pace at the top of the table and this article examines what all three teams have to contend with.

Manchester City

It is no secret that City have brilliant players in every position (except one, but we’ll come to that in a bit). In defence they boast a centre-back group of Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Nathan Ake and Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko as their full-back options. This group and goalkeeper Ederson has been the best defence in the league so far this season, conceding just nine goals in their 16 games. Pep Guardiola has used different variations of a back four throughout the season, keeping everyone fresh and match fit. In midfield, City have three of the best central midfielders in the league in Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho and then have arguably the most attacking talent in the entire league, with Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus all getting meaningful minutes and making a contribution for the Citizens this year. Also with Cole Palmer coming through and impressing in limited showings this season, City have endless options in attack. However, a noticeable gap in City’s eleven all season has been their lack of an out-an-out number nine. The departure of club legend Sergio Aguero and their failed attempt at drawing England captain Harry Kane away from Spurs in the summer left them in the lurch somewhat, which may be why City have scored five fewer goals than Chelsea, and twelve fewer than Liverpool. They will need to keep finding goals from their midfielders in order to keep up with their rivals. They will be without Mahrez for the Africa Cup of Nations, but given all the options available to Guardiola, City should have no problems with his absence.

 

Chelsea

Going into the season, a lot was made of the wealth of options available to Thomas Tuchel across the pitch. The European Champions’ options in defence are stacked. Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christiansen, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Malang Sarr are all strong options, and the emergence of Trevoh Chalobah has further aided an extremely strong defensive unit. Reece James under Tuchel has emerged as one of the league’s best players, with goals and assists from right wingback and before his injury, Ben Chilwell was playing some of the best football of his career. Fortunately for Chelsea, in Marcos Alonso they have a ready made replacement. Azpilicueta, Saul Niguez and Callum Hudson Odoi have also shown they can step into the wingback positions if required. In central midfield, they have third and fifth place finishers in Ballon d’Or voting in Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, as well as Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Niguez and Ross Barkley. In their wide positions, they have Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi and up front Chelsea have Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku. In short, Chelsea’s squad is absolutely brimming with talent. The Africa Cup of Nations will leave them without Ziyech for a while, but they should have enough talent in wide positions to get by without him. The bigger miss will be Edouard Mendy, who has announced himself onto the world stage as one of the best goalkeepers around since signing from Rennes. Kepa Arrizabalaga had a tough time as the Chelsea no.1, and the Blues will be relying on him heavily while Mendy is away.

Liverpool

Liverpool will undoubtedly be the team most affected by the African Cup of Nations with superstar wingers Mo Salah and Sadio Mane both gone for the tournament. With those two gone they will be heavily reliant on Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi to continue Liverpool’s incredible scoring record. In Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, Nat Phillips and Ibrahima Konate they have five solid central defenders and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are two of the best full-backs on the planet. Kostas Tsimikas and Neco Williams are certainly solid deputies who can fill in when required. They have Fabinho, Naby Keita, Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and the ever reliable utility man James Milner as midfield options. Many say Liverpool’s squad depth is not as strong as their two rivals, but Jurgen Klopp has negotiated Liverpool through some tough times in terms of injury crises in the last 18 months and has shown he is very good at getting the best out of his players.

Conclusion

All three sides are full of incredible talent throughout their squad, and with Covid, injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations affecting every squad in different ways, it could come down to which team can get the luckiest with avoiding big injuries and keeping their players fully fit. With it already looking like it will come down to the wire, each team will be relying on every single member of their squad to step up in big moments. 

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