We’re down to the last few weeks of the league season. Cups are being decided, European places are being decided, and we’re also about to find out who’s going up and who’s going down.
Form is everything at this stage of the season. If you go on a run, you can find yourself in the middle of a late charge for silverware or a good league position, like Manchester City last season winning their final five games to win the league, or Wigan in the past under Roberto Martinez when they managed to climb out of the relegation places in the final few games on a frighteningly regular basis.
But while form at this stage of the season can give you a great ending to the season, it can also give you the momentum to start next season very well too. With a little bit of strengthening in the summer, here are five form teams that can have a stellar season next time out.
I don’t mean to give you nightmares, but Arsenal have won nine of their last ten league games. That is seriously frightening. The last time they lost a league game was away to Spurs and a late Harry Kane goal on the 7th February. Before that it was away to Southampton on New Year’s day. They have won every other game since Christmas. So if they are not in a title race, no one can say it’s because they had their typical Arsenal run in February/March. It’s simply because they lost and drew too many games at the start of the season.
But on this sort of form, with the players really starting to play well together – and come back from the treatment table, crucially – then Arsenal can perhaps look to a full-on title tilt next season. Adding a midfielder with more power to their ranks, someone who can either sit in front of the back four or who can overpower opponents would see their squad pretty much completed. They have two decent keepers – though if a better one comes along they wouldn’t say no – they have enough defenders now, after a scare at the start of the season, and their attacking midfield is second to none. They also have Olivier Giroud in sensational form, having scored 14 Premier League goals despite a broken leg in August. If they go well next season, it won’t surprise anyone.
United are another form team. Despite a rocky start to life under Van Gaal, they’ve pulled together and they too are looking to mount a title challenge and a win against Chelsea this weekend will really set them up.
Van Gaal was roundly criticised at the start of the season for the amount of money he spent to bring the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria to the club, and the signs are he’ll be looking to spend more this summer. But United don’t necessarily need to spend all that much more. They have a squad that is clearly up there in the league,
Despite losing to Arsenal and Manchester United in successive weeks, Liverpool are still close to the top of the form table.
They’re also still in the FA Cup, facing Aston Villa for a place in the final, and are miraculously still on course for a Champions League spot after Manchester City’s apparent implosion. It’s not bad for a team that had as bad a start to this season’s campaign as Liverpool, and losing their best player in the summer.
They may well lose Raheem Sterling this time, too, but the Chairman has said he’s staying. He also said that Suarez would be staying the summer before last and was true to his word then, so we’ll take him at face value this time around.
The new recruits that Liverpool have brought in to replace Suarez are starting to fire and gel together, and so Liverpool may well be a team who can challenge next season. They’ve only lost twice in the league since Christmas, and if they can use this recent form as a springboard to get a decent start to next season too, then they may be in with shout of the title next time.
Swansea City were in a bad place just over a year ago. They sacked Michael Laudrup who managed the club to a League Cup success only a year previous to his sacking, and had got the Swans playing some lovely football. But Garry Monk came into the managerial role to steady the ship and steer the Swans away from relegation. In fact, he did more than that. He has overseen some real progress at a club who were facing a real prospect of relegation only a year ago.
Last season he took them to a safe spot in the league, and this year they’ve progressed even further, sitting comfortably in the mid-table spots throughout the course of the season. In fact, if they were to go from now until the end of the season perfectly, they’d still be in with a chance of Europa League qualification.
That’s a slim hope, though, and all it does is show their progress. Even though Wilfried Bony has left, Bafetimbi Gomis has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and led the line well. His injury will probably stop them from carrying the momentum on too far this season, but it doesn’t look too tall an order to ask for Swansea to continue their progress next season. Who knows, maybe a European place could be reachable next time around for Monk’s Swans.
The last team I’m going to put here is Norwich City who have been really wonderful in the last few months of the Championship season.
Since the 9th January, when 33 year-old Alex Neil took over as boss, Norwich have lost only twice as they now sit on the brink of promotion and only a point behind league leaders Bournemouth. They only have three games left, and this Friday game against Middlesbrough – who are only a point behind the Canaries – looks huge. If they win that, automatic promotion looks a real possibility and they can start building for next season.
Norwich could be coming straight back up, and strengthening their squad to compete in the Premier League may not be that hard for them. They still have a core of the team that played in the Premier League under Paul Lambert and Chris Hughton, and added Cameron Jerome who has scored 19 goals so far this season.
They aren’t up yet, obviously. But if they do manage to win promotion, the way they’ve been playing recently and the way the new manager has got them playing will give them lots of confidence to take on the Premier League, especially with the experience they already have in the squad. They’ll also loanees returning – Kyle Lafferty, who’s been banging them in for Northern Ireland and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel who has scored goals more regularly for St Etienne in France this season. So Norwich, if they win promotion to the Premier League, could be a team to watch next season.