For the Love of the Game: Premier League and Champions League Matches to Savor
It seems crazy to think about now, but we’re already more than halfway through the 2023-24 Premier League season. It feels like just yesterday that Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur leapt out to pace the standings in September and October, shocking the world after Manchester City seemed poised to waltz their way to a league-record fourth consecutive championship.
Both the Gunners and the Spurs have fallen off a cliff since those early season success stories, but it hasn’t been the usual suspects rising to take their place. Instead it’s Liverpool who leads the pack, fresh off a season where they finished a distant fifth.
After Liverpool with 45 points, there are four other clubs within at least two games of catching them, with Aston Villa, Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham all spread between 45 and 39 points. Man City locked up the title with a couple weeks to spare this season, but given how packed the top of the standings are right now, it looks like we could be in for an all time finish down the stretch if things continue the way they have. Right now, the sportsbooks don’t seem ready to write Man City off just yet, as they’re still heavy favorites to win it all, listed as high as -120 at various betting sites in the UK: which is sort of surprising when you consider how close things have been.
Here’s a look at the Premier League this season, both the top matches that have taken place so far, and the ones to keep an eye on as the year continues towards a thrilling finish.
Fulham Knocks Off Arsenal
The Cottagers have been one of the worst teams in the Premier League this season, managing just 28 points through 20 matches played. That didn’t stop them from earning a thrilling come-from-behind win over Arsenal on New Year’s Eve. The Gunners leapt out to a 1-0 lead in the first five minutes with a goal that Bukayo Saka tapped in off a rebounding shot that Bernd Leno couldn’t quite corral, but the hot start didn’t last long. Instead, Fulham’s defense locked in, and Leno pitched a shutout the rest of the way, helping Aston Villa and Man City leapfrog Arsenal in the standings.
If the Gunners want to avoid falling off down the stretch like they did last season, when they led the table at Christmas before letting Man City back in the race, they need to take care of business against the clubs they’re supposed to beat. It’s one thing if they drop a hard-fought match to Liverpool or Tottenham, as you can’t win against top teams every single time, but cratering in games against the Fulham’s of the world is what will end their title hopes in a hurry.
Can Liverpool Stay Ahead?
The Reds have 18 matches left to play, and just a three point cushion over Aston Villa to stay atop the standings. Unless you’re a Liverpool fan who wants to give themself a heart attack, it’s far too early to start watching the table obsessively. Each of the top five clubs so far have one game to play against one another, so the last few weeks in May could end up frantic if no one is able to solidify their place at the top of the table.
Tottenham plays Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool in consecutive weeks on April 20, April 27 and May 4; Arsenal plays Aston Villa on April 13; Aston Villa takes on Liverpool on May 11; Man City faces Arsenal on March 30 and Liverpool on April 3. With each of these teams set on a collision course with one another, I can’t wait to see who ends up on top.
Keeping An Eye On the Champions League
Of course, the Premier League action isn’t the only football to keep an eye on down the stretch. Man City has a UEFA Champions League title to defend in addition to their Premier League run, and with the Round of 16 set to begin in early February, we’ve got a couple of excellent matchups to watch.
Inter Milan and Atlético Madrid will face off on February 20, while Napoli will take on Barcelona the following day. Even as we narrow things down to the Round of 16, there’s still plenty of cannon fodder to go around—even the most diehard fan of Manchester City might get bored seeing them play with their food against Copenhagen—but each of the aforementioned contests has a legitimate title contender, and seeing them square off will make for some excellent television as the calendar turns toward spring.