We’re hitting the halfway stage of the season with Pep Guardiola’s relentless Manchester City top of the Premier League this Christmas.
The title appears to be a three-horse race with Liverpool and Chelsea in hot pursuit while Reds forward Mohamed Salah has been in scintillating form.
Here, Sportsmail’s reporters give their take on who’s going to win the Premier League, who should be awarded Young Player of the Season, the best and worst signing and much more…
Who’s going to win the Premier League?
CHRIS WHEELER: Liverpool have been outstanding and, as expected, Manchester City have mounted a strong defence of their title. But I went with Chelsea at the start of the season and I’m sticking with them despite their recent results.
Thomas Tuchel’s side have to stop conceding so many goals and they need Romelu Lukaku to regain form and fitness having not scored in the Premier League since early September.
MATT BARLOW: Man City. The best-equipped team with the most complete, strongest and deepest squad in a congested season disrupted by injuries and the complications of Covid isolations.
Relatively untroubled by the Africa Cup of Nations, compared with their closest rivals Liverpool and Chelsea, which adds another unknown element. Will Liverpool lose their flow without arguably their two best players Mo Salah and Sadio Mane? Will they slip straight back into the groove when they return? Can Chelsea cope with the absence of Edouard Mendy?
Chelsea also have to squeeze in a trip to Abu Dhabi to compete in the Club World Cup in February. It gives City an edge and they don’t need an edge because they’re very capable without one.
Manchester City currently top the standings but Liverpool and Chelsea are in hot pursuit
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Manchester City. Have had their moments when a lack of a top striker has appeared an issue but, overall, they are doing just fine. Their biggest rivals Liverpool and Chelsea will also be worse hit when their players depart for the Africa Cup of Nations too. That could be a key factor.
JOE BERNSTEIN: Liverpool – have the league’s best defender and goalscorer.
IAN HERBERT: I can’t see past Liverpool. They’re irresistible going forward and with Virgil van Dijk back have sorted that defence. Yes, Chelsea will resolve the errors which have briefly made them vulnerable – but both they and City are positively tepid going forward by comparison.
Jurgen Klopp’s big three – Mane, Salah and Diogo Jota are far willing to take on tricky chances, even if it means they will miss. Chelsea and City – the only other pretenders – are too concerned with the right pass and the perfect football. With Liverpool, we see raw, positively brutal quality.
Liverpool have been in fine form this season but could lose key players to AFCON next month
DOMINIC KING: Manchester City in a photo-finish from Liverpool with Chelsea third. Pep Guardiola’s team might be down on the goals they have scored but they may have just enough to repel Liverpool’s challenge.
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Manchester City. Their squad depth means they can attack all four competitions without having to compromise on quality – something few other clubs in the world can achieve.
That means that even if they prioritise trying to win a first Champions League title, it should not detract from their efforts to retain the domestic crown. They also understand the course and distance better than either of their strongest rivals, Liverpool and Chelsea.
CRAIG HOPE: Manchester City. I would like to say Liverpool because any side with Mo Salah deserves to win the title, but it just feels like City are entering machine mode now and, with the depth of their squad, they can power through until the end of the season.
SAMI MOKBEL: Liverpool. They appear to be building up a head of steam and look the team to beat right now. If they can keep their key players fit they’ll be tough to beat.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea outfit are a strong force but have struggled in recent weeks
Who’s going to win the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League?
CHRIS WHEELER: I’m backing Liverpool. It’s very early days to pick a winner in the Champions League and FA Cup, but Bayern Munich and Manchester City get my vote.
MATT BARLOW: Liverpool look irresistible in Europe, blowing away what ought to have been a very tough group with six wins. Historically, it is a competition where they excel and it wouldn’t surprise me if they win it for the seventh time in St Petersburg. But all the usual caveats apply. One off night, one mistake, one poor decision and even the best teams can come undone in the Champions League such is the quality of the opposition. All the Premier League teams have a chance, with Bayern Munich the biggest threat.
Arsenal with no other distractions can win the Carabao Cup and Chelsea for the FA Cup after last season’s near miss.
Mikel Arteta’s side Arsenal are in a strong position to go on to win the Carabao Cup next year
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Can see Chelsea coming through to win the Carabao Cup, fancy Ralf Rangnick to get Manchester United’s squad performing closer to the level they should to win the FA Cup and Manchester City have to win the Champions League at some point don’t they? This could be their year.
JOE BERNSTEIN: Carabao Cup Arsenal, Arteta knows how to bring home trophies. FA Cup Chelsea, still strong with rotation. Champions League Man City, surely it’s time?
IAN HERBERT: I have a feeling that Manchester City will be back in business in the FA Cup with that depth of theirs. Bayern look so strong in the Champions League. They’re my punt for Europe.
West Ham have impressed under David Moyes this season and are in with a shot at silverware
DOMINIC KING: A cup double beckons for Klopp. They are the best team left in the Carabao Cup and if they take it seriously – and why shouldn’t they from here – they can get the first trophy.
They are also the team to beat in Europe and have been playing like winners of this competition since the first ball was kicked in September. Antonio Conte can kick-start his revolution at Tottenham by winning the FA Cup.
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Carabao Cup – Tottenham. Conte is a force to be reckoned with in domestic football and with no major European prize to compete for, there is every reason for him to go as strong as he can. Semi-final opponents Chelsea – his former club – will have their eyes on the Premier League and Champions League trophies. FA Cup – Manchester City. City remain the kings of domestic football. Champions League – Real Madrid. Form, quality and experience – it is remarkable to see them virtually discounted by the bookies.
CRAIG HOPE: Carabao Cup – Arsenal. Arteta will appreciate the importance of a trophy in prolonging his stay at the Emirates. FA Cup – Chelsea. They have been the beaten finalists the last two seasons, but they have the depth and talent to reclaim the trophy. Champions League – Liverpool. Back in front of full houses, those Anfield nights can sweep them to another final.
SAMI MOKBEL: Chelsea win the Carabao Cup, Manchester United win the FA Cup and Manchester City win the Champions League.
Antonio Conte has galvanised Tottenham since taking over from Nuno Espirito Santo
Who should be player of the season?
CHRIS WHEELER: Salah has set the bar very high in the first half of the season, and if the Liverpool man continues in this vein of form it’s hard to see anybody beating him.
Bernardo Silva is the other stand-out performer so far and it could go his way if Manchester City edge out Liverpool for the top honours.
MATT BARLOW: Salah gets my vote at the moment, back to his exhilarating best and taking Liverpool with him. The big question is whether his brilliant form can survive up to a month away at the Africa Cup of Nations, where the demands will be different, training and the rhythms of competition will change.
There is no guarantee he can slide back into the same groove and if he fades, then others to consider will include Silva and three Chelsea defenders in magnificent form: Antonio Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Reece James.
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Salah or Silva. Depends who wins the league.
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has been in scintillating form during the 2021-22 campaign
JOE BERNSTEIN: Salah, by a country mile.
IAN HERBERT: Salah. Sorry to be predictable but he is on such an extraordinary level, creating and finishing, way ahead already on goals and assists.
The individual goal against Manchester City was beyond sublime. This season’s conversation about whether he is Liverpool’s greatest striker is a justifiable one. I think he is.
DOMINIC KING: As well as Silva is playing, if Salah maintains the form he has shown since August, it can only be him. He is the best player in the world, even when he has quiet games he can decide them.
The Premier League is witnessing greatness from the Egyptian.
Playmaker Bernardo Silva has been the standout performer for leaders Manchester City
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Silva. He has made a stellar start to the campaign and – injury aside – he looks the clear favourite to take the award. If City do the domestic double, as I predict, his case will be strengthened still further.
CRAIG HOPE: Salah. He does it well and he does it every week, the mark of a truly great player.
SAMI MOKBEL: At the moment Salah – no one comes close right now.
Who should be manager of the season?
CHRIS WHEELER: So much depends on what happens over the next five months. Tuchel, Guardiola or Klopp? Could Conte work miracles at Tottenham or Rangnick at Manchester United? It’s very hard to say. But if I’m backing Chelsea for the title then let’s go for Tuchel.
MATT BARLOW: Hand it out today and it should go to David Moyes, sustaining a challenge for the top four and taking West Ham successfully back into European competition but managers earn their credit at the sharp end of the season.
Going into December last year, Frank Lampard was in the running and he was out of work two months later and, perhaps unfairly, his reputation suffered because Tuchel picked up the squad he left behind and won the Champions League.
This season, it could be Moyes if he leads West Ham to a top-four finish. It could be Eddie Howe or Dean Smith if they can keep Newcastle or Norwich afloat.
It has been a promising debut season so far from Bruno Lage and Thomas Frank has started well at Brentford… but the road is long and more realistically, it will be Klopp, Guardiola or Tuchel if any of them can win the Champions League.
Blues manager Tuchel could be in the running for the Manager of the Season award in May
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: So far, Moyes. Proving last season’s success with West Ham is no fluke. Built on it to have West Ham in top-four mix, improved team and numerous players. Defensive injuries to cover for in the second half of the season but Moyes’ transfer market at West Ham has been good which should provide optimism.
JOE BERNSTEIN: If Liverpool can win this hugely competitive title race, Klopp.
IAN HERBERT: Moyes, West Ham. Just when you think it’s all going to plateau out for his team, they produce something new and unexpected. No, they won’t win the league but what Moyes has delivered in terms of identifying good value talent, instilling an immense work ethic among players and attracting capacity crowds to the London Stadium exceeds anything that those with bigger budgets have achieved.
They really are top-four contenders and have embraced the Europa League, rather than join the ranks of middling teams who view it as a millstone.
Moyes has built on the success at the London Stadium last year and could be line for award
DOMINIC KING: This award always goes to the men who win the trophies but – to be a bit different how about Frank? If he keeps Brentford, playing bold and aggressive football, he should be recognised.
Eddie Howe would have claims of his own if he keeps Newcastle up but that simply isn’t going to happen.
TOM COLLOMOSSE: If Moyes can go one better than last season and get West Ham into the top four, there will be few other realistic contenders – though Frank and Dean Smith will deserve mentions if they keep Brentford and Norwich in the division.
CRAIG HOPE: Moyes, if he gets West Ham into the top four. Beyond that, the winner of the Premier League, for it is a competitive field this season.
SAMI MOKBEL: Frank – a brilliant start to life as a top-flight manager. Others will be taking notice.
Thomas Frank has got Brentford playing bold and aggressive football and could be recognised
Who is going to be young player of the season?
CHRIS WHEELER: Phil Foden picked up the award last season and could easily emulate Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli by making it back-to-back wins. Foden has come of age at City this season and taken his game to another level. Is there a better young player in the Premier League right now?
MATT BARLOW: In terms of fresh talent exploding into the Premier League this season, it has to be Conor Gallagher at Crystal Palace. Another gem from the Chelsea academy. Energy and stamina, courage and physical commitment. All-round ability with added goals.
He has the makings of a complete midfielder with echoes of a young Bryan Robson. Foden is still eligible for the PFA Young Player of the Year award (21 or under as of July 1, 2021) and may yet have something to say about it.
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: One of Declan Rice, Gallagher, Tino Livramento, Emile Smith Rowe, James or Aaron Ramsdale. All have had standout starts to the season.
Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher has been a star performer for Crystal Palace so far
JOE BERNSTEIN: Bukayo Saka is so consistent he goes under the radar.
IAN HERBERT: Livramento, Southampton. I’ve been so impressed with the 18-year-old signed for £5million from Chelsea in the summer. With his high energy and his ability to influence games from right back, he has started every game for Southampton, when the general expectation was that he would take time to bed in. A quality player, great to watch and with the fearlessness that often comes with youth.
DOMINIC KING: Gallagher has been a revelation. Gareth Southgate went to specifically watch him and Marco Guehi when Crystal Palace beat Manchester City in October and Gallagher’s form keeps getting better. A young lad with a big future.
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Joe Gelhardt. I am sure he won’t win the official PFA award, yet if we are looking at little-known players who have made a surprise impact, the Leeds forward must be high on the list. He has made an impact when called upon and looks set for a bright future in the game.
CRAIG HOPE: Trent Alexander-Arnold still qualifies, but I think Foden might just edge him out. Both, though, would be worthy winners on what we’ve seen so far.
SAMI MOKBEL: He’ll be 22 by the time the season is over, but Gallagher is having a brilliant campaign. Looks to have everything in his locker to become a top player.
Southampton defender Tino Livramento (L) has impressed following his move from Chelsea
Who will win the Golden Boot?
CHRIS WHEELER: Salah is out in front at the moment and it would be no surprise at all if he stayed there, even though his rivals will have a chance to close the gap when he’s away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt next month.
MATT BARLOW: Salah going to take some catching if he remains free from injuries and is undisturbed by the Africa Cup of Nations. If anyone can gallop by with net-rippling fanfare, I’m expecting it will be Cristiano Ronaldo, avid collector of the shiniest prizes, taker of many penalties and the veteran spearhead of the Rangnick revolution.
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Salah.
JOE BERNSTEIN: The only way to stop Salah is extend the Africa Cup of Nations to three months.
Salah is going to take some stopping from winning the Premier League Golden Boot prize
IAN HERBERT: Salah, Liverpool. It’s going to be Salah by a mile. That hunger of his for goals, especially when a game enters its later stages and he hasn’t yet registered one, is more palpable than ever.
DOMINIC KING: Salah is on a crusade to get this accolade and only an injury will stop him. He’s built up a significant buffer already and his dead-eyed approach means there will be plenty more goals to come.
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Salah. With the possible exception of Erling Haaland and Ronaldo, Salah is surely the best finisher in the world game and he will take some catching again this season.
CRAIG HOPE: Salah. Simple.
SAMI MOKBEL: Salah. Goals, goals, goals.
Who will be relegated?
CHRIS WHEELER: I went for Brentford, Norwich and Southampton at the start of the season and only Brentford have surprised me so far. The positive way they have tackled the Premier League is a credit to them, and it would be shame if they didn’t stay up.
Something tells me Newcastle will find a way to beat the drop as well, so let’s go for Burnley, Norwich and Southampton.
MATT BARLOW: Norwich and Newcastle unless the Saudi millions perform wonders in the notoriously difficult January transfer market. Plus one other. Leeds are grappling with the second-season syndrome, with key men Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford both troubled by injuries.
Burnley and Watford are in the scrap for the duration but I fear Southampton will slide into trouble this year. They are committed to an open style of play, with a fair scattering of inexperienced players and are not as ugly and hard to play against as some of their relegation rivals.
Sean Dyche’s Burnley side are under threat from losing their Premier League status this season
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Burnley, Newcastle, Watford. There has been an improvement in Norwich which I think will lead to them getting out of trouble. Leeds’s injury-affected form is a concern too and would not be surprised if they seriously flirt with the drop during the remainder of the season.
JOE BERNSTEIN: Newcastle, Watford, Norwich. Mind you, Southampton also look vulnerable.
IAN HERBERT: Norwich, Burnley and Watford. Norwich because they have still not shown the financial intent to stay up, gratifying though their approach to finance might be. Burnley because the Sean Dyche miracle can only last so long and their new owners have been more interested in sacking quality members of Dyche’s support team than properly strengthening the team.
And Watford because I don’t believe lovable Claudio Ranieiri has what it takes to keep a below-average team up. I think Newcastle will find the means and the money to strengthen and escape.
Does Claudio Ranieiri have what it takes to keep a below average team like Watford up?
DOMINIC KING: Newcastle are a lost cause and deserve to go for the impoverished way they have played so far. Norwich will get caught out again after their ruinous start and this, unfortunately, seems the year that Burnley will drop. They will not go without a fight, though, and could drag others in to it. Everton’s anxieties about this issue are real.
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Newcastle, Norwich, Watford. Leeds look likely to be dragged into the fight but should have just enough quality to survive. Newcastle may spend in January yet who will want to go there when the risk of Championship football at the end of the season is so great?
CRAIG HOPE: Norwich. Burnley. Watford. If Newcastle invest how they should in January, they have the right manager in Eddie Howe to pull clear.
SAMI MOKBEL: Newcastle, Norwich, Watford.
If Newcastle invest how they should, they have the right manager in Eddie Howe to pull clear
Who’s the best signing so far?
CHRIS WHEELER: I predicted in the summer that it would be Lukaku, and he got off to a flying start at Chelsea with four goals in his first four games.
But that was before Manchester United re-signed Ronaldo, and you cannot underestimate the feelgood factor he has brought to his old club as well as 12 goals. Can he press? Probably, but who cares? Goalscorers like Ronaldo are worth their weight in gold as he continues to demonstrate at the age of 36.
MATT BARLOW: Arsenal were ridiculed when they agreed to pay up to £38million for a back-up goalkeeper but Ramsdale’s arrival from Sheffield United has transformed Arteta’s team. Ramsdale soon forced his way past Bernd Leno to become No 1 and has produced an exceptional performance level, made some incredible saves and infected the rest of the defensive unit with a new desire to keep the ball out of the net.
In doing so, he has earned an England recall. He must develop this promise into long-term dependability but he looks as if he could be the Arsenal goalkeeper for the next decade, for which £38m represents great value in the modern market.
Aaron Ramsdale’s arrival from Sheffield United has transformed Arteta’s Gunners team
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Ronaldo. Is not the force of old but has more done what he was bought to do. His return to Manchester United was one of the stories of the season and, in terms of his individual output, he has delivered, producing some box office, headline grabbing moments along the way.
Also a nod to Ramsdale for his impact at Arsenal, £1.7m Demarai Gray for providing value for money at Everton and Emmanuel Dennis at Watford too. Can see why he has been linked with clubs in the past that he has.
JOE BERNSTEIN: Dennis of Watford. His absence at AFCON will be massive.
IAN HERBERT: Gray, Everton. A steal for Everton, from Leverkusen, at £1.7m, and a sign of Rafa Benitez’s acute eye for a player. Things had gone wrong for Gray, who had fallen out of favour at Leicester, and featured only 12 times in six months at Leverkusen, but the 25-year-old’s winner against Arsenal went a long way to repaying the fee.
He has credited Benitez, who has a track record for focusing on ways that individuals can develop technically.
DOMINIC KING: There really haven’t been that many standouts when you look at the longlist of deals.
Cristiano Ronaldo has had the best impact among the Champions League sides, Ramsdale has progressed sufficiently to be regarded as an England candidate at Arsenal following his move from Sheffield United but let’s go back to Gallagher again. It’s been an inspired piece of business and he is flourishing under Patrick Vieira’s care.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s numbers are astounding and he has delivered since sensational return
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Ronaldo. There is a fair debate to be had about whether the Portugal superstar has caused tactical problems for Manchester United, yet at 36, his numbers are astounding.
CRAIG HOPE: Gallagher. I know Newcastle – among others – were very interested in signing the Chelsea midfielder, and how they all must regret not beating Crystal Palace to his signature, even if it is on loan. He has everything you want in a midfielder and, best of all, he directly influences results.
SAMI MOKBEL: Ramsdale has been a massive bonus for Arsenal. The Gunners weren’t expecting him to be No 1 until the start of next season. But he is already undisputed first choice.
Who’s the worst signing/flop of the season?
CHRIS WHEELER: Sancho is finally starting to offer some evidence of why Manchester United spent two years and £73million getting him out of Borussia Dortmund. His first two goals for United came under caretaker boss Michael Carrick, and he will hope to prosper under interim boss Rangnick.
But the fact remains that he went 14 games without a goal or assist when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in charge, and that was a massive disappointment considering the fanfare that greeted his arrival at Old Trafford.
It cost Sancho his place in the England team, so at the halfway stage it’s hard to view his signing as a positive yet.
MATT BARLOW: Cristian Romero… the £47m solution to Tottenham’s problems in central defence defied the wishes of his new employers by reporting for Argentina despite being suspended when South America was on the travel red-list and had to serve out a quarantine period in Croatia.
Sent off in Antonio Conte’s first match before picking up a serious hamstring injury on international duty a week later.
Now it turns out the complex transfer taking him from Juventus to Atalanta and onto Spurs – initially on loan before converting into a permanent deal – engineered by new director of football Fabio Paratici, is under investigation by Italian police.
Jadon Sancho, signed for £73million by Man United, has failed to live up to expectation so far
ADRIAN KAJUMBA: Kane. Didn’t get his move, yes, but expected that his own desire to break records would ensure there would be no major drop off. But one Premier League goal all season is the sort of form that would make any of his suitors wary.
Chelsea’s Saul Niguez deserves a mention too. Has not looked suited to the Premier League at all.
JOE BERNSTEIN: Sancho cost £73m and looks a poor man’s Callum Hudson-Odoi.
IAN HERBERT: Lukaku, Chelsea. Injury has been the problem, of course, but Tuchel’s declaration after the 3-2 defeat at West Ham that he’d only brought Lukaku on to replace Kai Havertz, because he was short of aerial support to defend set-pieces, was an extraordinary admission about a player who cost nearly £100million.
Chelsea have a wealth of expensive strikers, none of whom can score.
DOMINIC KING: It’s not a signing but I can’t be anything other than disappointed with how Kane has played for Tottenham so far.
He needs to rouse himself and do for Tottenham what he does for England. One Premier League goal by the middle of December is a nonsense.
Tottenham talisman Harry Kane has been disappointing after failing to get his summer switch
TOM COLLOMOSSE: Leon Bailey. Aston Villa signed him for about £25million from Bayer Leverkusen last summer and apart from a spectacular goal against Everton, nothing has gone right.
He has made just three starts, suffered three separate injuries and looked ordinary when he has played. Steven Gerrard inherited Bailey and has his work cut out to turn this one around.
CRAIG HOPE: Sancho, but only because the expectation was so high. We have, in truth, seen virtually nothing of the daring forward who tore it up in Germany.
SAMI MOKBEL: Sancho has failed to live up to expectation so far. But he’s far too talented for that to continue.