x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Our columnist sums up his take on the first half of the Premier League season, and who looks good for the title run-in.

Manchester City are Andrew Cole’s favourites for the title. Paul Ellis / AFP
Manchester City are Andrew Cole’s favourites for the title. Paul Ellis / AFP

The Premier League has been enjoyable so far, with only eight points separating the top eight teams after 18 games.

Manchester City are my favourites for the title. Man for man, they boast a better first XI than anyone. They have the strongest overall squad, too. Their home form has been impeccable, with nine wins from nine and an incredible 37 goals scored at the Etihad Stadium.

Contrast that with Manchester United who have scored 11 goals at home.

If City can improve their patchy away form, the league will be theirs.

It is not easy to adapt, but Alvaro Negredo has settled immediately. He has been a fine signing. Fernandinho, too.

Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero remain their best talents. They were the best players on the pitch in the Manchester derby when they hammered United 4-1.

If you can stand out against the champions, you are on to something, though United have not been themselves so far.

City also hammered Arsenal, Spurs and beat Liverpool, though Liverpool were unlucky not to get something from the game on Thursday.

Brendan Rodgers’ side have been the surprise of the season.

Their fans had them down for finishing seventh or eighth in August. They were wrong.

Liverpool have a great chance of a Champions League spot. Why? Luis Suarez. He is the best player in the league so far – and by a distance, too.

He has elevated Liverpool and fitted in as replacement captain for Steven Gerrard, another fantastic servant who still has a major part to play.

Suarez is leading that team; he is ridiculously good at beating players, setting up goals and scoring.

He ties centre-backs in knots, he buffaloes into players and still comes out with the ball. His finishing is almost faultless.

Suarez made a lot of mistakes in the past, but finally people are talking about him as a great footballer. I would pay to watch him play.

Arsenal will finish in a Champions League spot, but unless they buy another centre forward in January to ease the burden on the tiring Oliver Giroud, they will not win the league.

One signing transformed their team: Mesut Ozil. He is not as consistent as Suarez and some of their bad results have coincided with Ozil not playing well, but should not the rest of the team be stepping up?

Chelsea? They have the players, but they are not as good as Man City, pound for pound.

They have slightly underwhelmed under Jose Mourinho and lost games nobody would have expected a Mourinho team to lose. They let the excellent Romelu Lukaku go on loan and their remaining strikers have been criticised, but wasn’t the great strength of Chelsea teams that they had several players scoring from difference positions?

Other players are allowed to score and help out. A top-four finish though. Definitely.

I hope United finish in the top four, too. It would be very strange if they didn’t and didn’t reach the Champions League.

United have stuttered all season, enjoying a good run and then a couple of bad games.

They are seventh, it is not good enough so far and they may have left it too late to win the league, but the league is far less predictable and they are still only eight points off the top.

They need more cohesion and to be less fragmented if they’re going to beat the top teams.

Beating smaller sides is not enough if you are to lift the title.

The form of Wayne Rooney has been the plus in David Moyes’s reign so far. That, and the emergence of Adnan Januzaj, who plays so well despite being only 18. How many players break into top sides at that age? Almost none.

Antonio Valencia can be devastating on the wing when confident and the central defensive partnership of Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans is encouraging for United.

They need to continue their winning run and drastically improve home form. United have 14 points at home, City have 27.

The league is so topsy-turvy that even Everton have a chance of top four. It has been super to see them play attacking football and dominating matches and I take my hat off to Roberto Martinez for the excellent job he is doing.

Tottenham have disappointed so far. They are not the Spurs we have become used to, an attacking side with swagger. I know their new manager Tim Sherwood and wish him well, but a top-four finish is unlikely.

Andrew Cole’s column is written with the assistance of Andy Mitten, the European football correspondent.

sports@thenational.ae