Premier League title race: Halfway review, Part One: Liverpool and Everton dark horses

Clive Rose

The Premier League title race is perhaps reaching its turning point, so we assess the likely contenders and their chances. First up: Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, and Everton.

Liverpool

Back-to-back defeats at Manchester City and Chelsea have seen Liverpool fall from their Christmastime perch to out of the top four entirely, with Brendan Rodgers' squad not looking up to the task of a genuine title push. Against the former, they were unlucky, but by the time they had to visit Stamford Bridge they were distinctly second best, no matter what is made out of questionable calls by officials.

Like many of the other teams, the January transfer window could solve some of their problems, but a lot of their players have simply been inconsistent. Luis Suarez's ridiculous form has been tempered by his vastly inferior form against the better sides, which is a trait shared by too many other players in the squad, notably Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Leiva, and Raheem Sterling. Signings like Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas have simply failed to make an impact at all.

Quality additions will see the Reds improve, of course, but they have rode their luck at times and have perhaps the most questionable defence of all the teams in the mix. If they merely required a defensive upgrade or additional attacking options, they may have a chance of rectifying things, but requiring both is likely a job that cannot be completed in one mid-season window. The top four is a very real possibility, but it will be a long, hard fight.

Odds: 7/1

Tottenham

At the start of the season, it did not seem likely that Tim Sherwood would be man in the way of Tottenham's aspirations towards a top-four finish, yet here we are. After the departure of André Villas-Boas and the failure to get his expensively-acquired side going, Sherwood has stepped in with about as radically different a style as is possible, meeting with very mixed results.

There have, at least, been no truly humiliating defeats, but Sherwood remains untested against the best. On New Years Day, his side traveled to Manchester United, where continuing with a 4-4-2 would surely be suicidal against an in-form team who have a weakness in midfield but solid defenders and deadly forwards. Perhaps the move was just a temporary one to restore goalscoring and creative confidence before switching to something solid. The 4-4-2 is certainly not the system Sherwood deployed in the reserves, so it would be odd if he religiously stuck by it, despite his side not being best-suited to it.

Before we see more of Sherwood, it's very difficult to judge Spurs' chances. What shouldn't be forgotten is that they have a lot of talented players who have a lot to prove. Villas-Boas was sacked early because he was unable to get his individuals to play like a team. There is no guarantee that these players will perform simply because Spurs spent highly to acquire them, but Sherwood is far from incapable of making progress.

Odds: 16/1

Everton

Everton supporters' determination to rewrite history is an odd one. David Moyes was neither underachieving nor playing bad football at Everton; his (far worse) team finished sixth last year, which will be very difficult to repeat. Despite the team's current form, Roberto Martinez has been hailed as a vast improvement on the outgoing Moyes, who is only just now beginning to find his feet at United.

The long-term problems of replacing their loanees are obvious, and while Martinez may have his team a lot closer to the title than Moyes, the Toffees are still aiming for the top-four, and they may not be any closer to that then they were with Moyes.

With Everton just fourth at the end of 2013, they will have to hold on against an onslaught from Liverpool as well as near-certain improvement from Manchester United and a likely resurgence from Tottenham. Either that, or theymust hope that Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal suffer disastrous runs of form. That would require some pretty remarkable play between now and the end of the season, and with the club having the most limited prospects of improvement in January, it doesn't look the likeliest outcome.

Odds: 16/1

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