Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't hide his frustration as Manchester United began their Premier League season with a shock 2-1 loss at home.
Congratulations to 2021-22 Premier League champions, Manchester City. Wrapping up the title in December with 18 games still remaining in the season is a phenomenal achievement and one we may never see again.
Okay, technically and mathematically there’s still something to play for, however even the most avid fans of City’s contenders would be holding out little hope of getting their hands on the Premier League trophy this season. So, with the title done and dusted, what other narratives are there to look forward to?
Champions League places
Despite recent dropped points handing the title to City, most would still expect Liverpool and Chelsea to be locked in for the second and third Champions League places. Current second-placed occupants Chelsea’s upcoming fixtures will be telling with Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur up next.
Throw in yet to be rescheduled games against Brighton and a resurgent Arsenal and Thomas Tuchel’s men will have their work cut out for them in January.
Liverpool, on the other hand, will sorely miss Mohamed Salah, Sadio Manè and Naby Keïta when they are representing their respective nations at the African Cup of Nations tournament in January, but should have enough depth and pick up enough points to see them through. There’s a good chance you might see a few names you forgot were still with the Reds.
The final Champions Leagues place is far harder to predict with a number of potential contenders. Arsenal’s young brigade are starting to click but have failed to convince against the big teams and blown hot and cold at times, and last season’s surprise packet West Ham are proving last season wasn’t a fluke, however much may depend on the strength of their thin squad and how deep they go in the Europa League.
And then there’s two of the biggest clubs in the country who have hit the reset button with new managers of late. The introductions of Antonio Conte (Tottenham) and Ralf Rangnick (Manchester United) have steadied the respective ships and put them into a position to qualify for the Champions League.
Manchester United still have this season’s Champions League on their mind and are struggling to find the right combinations around Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tottenham, on the other hand, are out of the Europa Conference League and some of their key players in Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are starting to hit their straps which could provide a significant advantage.
Who goes down?
With three of the current bottom four having already changed their manager they must be thinking what to do next as they haven’t seen a dramatic improvement. The one exception to the manager upheaval is Sean Dyche at Burnley, who given what he has done for that club is unlikely to be moved on.
Norwich City, under new manager Dean Smith, look all but gone with only two wins for the season and only eight goals scored.
Newcastle, under their new owners, are in quite the predicament come January when the transfer window opens. No doubt they will open the chequebook to land a big fish but just who would be willing to come for a relegation scrap in the hope that better days would be ahead next season?
Burnley in 18th and with games in hand should have enough quality and experience to get them out of trouble but with only one win to their name so far this season, questions will deservedly be asked if this is the season that their unflattering playing style sees them caught out.
Above the drop zone are Watford, who got a small new manager bounce with Claudio Ranieri’s appointment bringing wins over Everton and Manchester United, but they have failed to pick up a point since. Matches against Newcastle and then Norwich in the space of seven days in January may well decide their fate.
Precariously perched above Watford are an injury-ravaged Leeds United and Everton as well as newly-promoted Brentford. As much as it would be intriguing to see more and more teams dragged into a relegation scrap, with Leeds and Everton starting to get influential players back and Brentford turning out attractive football that will sweep aside most teams who are off their game – so all three should comfortably avoid the drop.
It wouldn’t be a shock to any football fan that Salah is leading the golden boot race with 15 goals. The Egyptian is five clear of his nearest rival and teammate in Diogo Jota on ten. With Salah set to miss up to three games with his African Cup of Nation commitments, does it open the door for Jota, Jamie Vardy (9), Son (8), or Ronaldo (7) to mount a challenge?
Can City beat 100 points?
With the title wrapped up, City may look to an internal challenge of breaking their own record of 100 points in a season which they achieved back in 2017-18. Currently on 50 points after 20 games with a neat 2.5 points per game average, they would need to win 17 of their remaining 18 games to achieve the feat.
If they are still in Champions League contention late into the season you would expect that to be where the focus lies for Pep Guardiola’s team.
What Newcastle do in the January transfer window will be intriguing.
If inconsistent results remain at Chelsea perhaps Thomas Tuchel checks out or reinforcements will be added.
Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe appear destined for Real Madrid in the summer, but could one of England’s big clubs convince them otherwise?
Will Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Southampton finish mid-table again?
No doubt things won’t necessarily play out in a straight forward manner, particularly with the likeliness of continual delays meaning more fixture congestion, but it does appear that there are certain aspects of the season that are all but decided.