The second round of winter break fixtures also happen to be the return clashes of the Premier League’s opening day. Since that sunny weekend in August, however, very few clubs have made it through to now with much credit. It’s been a campaign overshadowed by controversial VAR decisions and a constant criticism of the standard being far lower than usual.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all in transition, Tottenham are getting back on their feet under Jose Mourinho following the dismissal of Mauricio Pochettino and Manchester City, well, they’ve dropped more points than anyone could have ever predicted after their record-breaking seasons under Pep Guardiola. Even Bournemouth, so often lauded for their staying power in the top-flight, have been dissed as they look to avoid the drop after a horrendous run of form.
Liverpool and Sheffield United have far and away been the two sides showered with most praise, and rightly so. The Reds have won 24 and drawn the other of their opening 25 matches and look set to lift the Premier League title in style. Chris Wilder’s Blades, meanwhile, have caught the eye with innovative tactics and look like a very good bet to seal a shock place in Europe.
Two teams who met on that first weekend of the new season, Leicester and Wolves, are perhaps the only other two sides to get real deserved kudos this campaign. While the Foxes are third in the table and were still in the title hunt around Christmas time, Wolves have juggled a tricky Europe League schedule to remain in the top ten for most of the season.
It’s no coincidence that Leicester are taking advantage of the top six desolation to firmly cement themselves in Champions League spots and that Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are level on points with United despite an equally testing tour of the continent.
Amazingly, in the last twelve years both clubs have played as low as the third tier of English football. In fact, Wolves are currently only halfway through their second season back in the top-flight, but with planning, they’ve realised their big ambitions and pulled off huge turnarounds. Of course, Far East investment has helped, but there is a stability at the King Power and Molineux which should see them enjoy sustained success.
Leicester, shock title winners in 2016, have not suffered an expected lull back into mid-table obscurity but instead have come to the fore again and are challenging while Wolves target will be to earn annual trips abroad this decade.
Smart buys have been key for Wolves, scouring the world for top talent which they have moulded into a well-oiled machine. They have a system and they have a belief, it really works. They’ve stuck at it and are reaping the rewards. For the Foxes, they have been astute. Employing Brendan Rodgers to nurture an already impressive squad to take the club to the next level was a master stroke. It was a coup and credit to the club they were able to entice him from football royalty Celtic and it feels a perfect fit. As well, they’ve done well to bring through quality academy players like Ben Chilwell and Hamza Choudhury who have complemented more seasoned stars like Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy and strong purchases like Denis Praet and ÇaÄlar Söyüncü.
It feels there is a quite a mess to sort at a fair few Premier League clubs this term but, among the debris, Leicester and Wolves have their houses in order. It’s been a strange old season for many, but for these two sides who meet on Friday evening, 2020 is the year all their patient planning is bearing fruit.
You can watch Wolves v Leicester live on BT Sport 1 tonight with coverage starting at 7.15 pm and kick-off set for 8 pm.