When the 2023-24 Premier League season kicked off in August, DIRECTV offered you the ultimate guide for the year ahead. Now, just over halfway through the English campaign, we’ve seen enough plot twists to fill Shakespeare’s folio — overachievers, underachievers and real-life, off-pitch drama.
So, with 16 matches left to play, and only five points separating the top four teams in the league, it’s time to look back, look ahead and scan the table from bottom to top for the key teams, players and storylines of 2023-24 — and what to watch for in the new year.
Credit: Jacob King/AP
After a year of steady climbing, Aston Villa has elevated to the upper floors of the table. After sinking as low as 14th place last season, just three points above relegation, then-manager Steven Gerrard was unceremoniously sacked. Into his place stepped Spaniard Unai Emery, who guided Villa to a 7th-place finish in 2022-23.
That momentum has continued. Villa has risen to fourthin the table at the midway point of this season; now, for the first time in more than 40 years, Villa has made believers of its fans in Birmingham. Led by forward Ollie Watkins, and his 11 goals — good for fifth place on the Premier League’s goals leaders list — Villa is only held to fourth in the tables by three points. They recently posted back-to-back wins against powerhouses Manchester City and Arsenal, proving the Villans can do some more damage down the stretch.
Credit: Dave Thompson/AP
The boos have rained down at Old Trafford this season — only this time, they’re for the home team, Manchester United. After going more than a decade without a league title, Second-year United manager Erik ten Hag opened the checkbook over the summer to bring in young talent. But those investments haven’t paid off, including a $91 million transfer fee for forward Rasmus Højlund, who scored just four goals this season.
Hopes were high at the start of this season. Last year, Ten Hag led United to a 3rd-place league finish. But this year United sit in sixth place in league standings, 13 points out of first place and six points out from automatically qualifying for the Champions League. Beset by injuries and underperformance, United suffered nine Premier League losses by New Year’s Day; the last time they lost that many matches by Jan. 1 was more than 90 years ago. Fans are restless, ownership is frustrated and, if United can’t turn things around fast, Ten Hag may not last long in 2024.
LUTON TOWN, BURNLEY, SHEFFIELD UNITED
Three teams made the jump from the Championship League to the Premier League this season. All three teams got a rude welcome. Luton Town, Burnley and Sheffield United occupy the 17th, 19th and 20th spots in the table, respectively, and are the worst-performing promoted sides in Premier League history. Burnley and Sheffield are a combined 16 points out of 17th place — the spot needed to avoid the bump back down. Luton Town, however, has the chance to do something impressive.
Thanks to a rules breach for financial impropriety, 18th-place Everton was docked 10 points earlier this season. That has the Toffees’ feet to the fire, with Luton Town just one point ahead. But Everton could prove more of an asset to Luton than a hindrance: The Hatters are also within shouting distance of 14th-, 15th- and 16th-placed teams Crystal Palace, Brentford and Nottingham Forest. Ten-point fine notwithstanding, Everton’s eight wins are solidly middle of the Premier League pack win leaders. Their talent isn’t in question, and if Everton can drag one of those other three teams down into relegation territory, Luton Town might pop up and remain in the top league for 2025.
MIDWAY PLAYERS OF THE SEASON
Source: Reuters/Dylan Martinez
Declan Rice broke the bank — but there’s no financial crisis in North London: The midfielder has earned every cent of his club-record $131 million signing for Arsenal. When they brought Rice in from West Ham, the Gunners didn’t so much need a goalscoring threat — they needed an all-around upgrade in the center of the pitch. What they’ve gotten in the 24 year old, says Gunners manager Mikel Arteta, is a player who breaks up opposing offensive schemes, who dominates his area and who makes Arsenal truly gel. Now in third place in the 2023-24 table, the Gunners are just two points behind league leaders Liverpool and are eyeing a run for the top spot.
Source: Mike Egerton/PA
Mohamed Salah has long been playing on “Legendary” mode for Liverpool. The Egyptian winger recently registered his 200th goal for the Reds. The Reds are in first place overall; however, they will be without their main player for at least a few matches in the near future. First drawn away by the African Cup of Nations tournament to play with team Egypt, Salah is now encumbered with a hamstring injury. He was out for key back-to-back games against Chelsea and Arsenal while in rehabilitation, the latter a loss that put Liverpool’s top spot in jeopardy.
Last season, Manchester City’s sterling striker, Erling Haaland, set a new Premier League record by scoring 36 goals. The 6-foot-4 Norwegian, known simply as the Viking, has kept up that pace so far in 2023-24 and sits atop the Golden Boot standings with 14 braces. Haaland faced injuries during the holiday season, but his scintillating play still has Manchester City in second place in the league standings. He may well be on his way to a second-consecutive Golden Boot, and Man City —five points out of first place — is dreaming as big as the best forward in the game.
THE TITLE HUNT
LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER CITY, ASTON VILLA, ARSENAL, TOTTENHAM
At the midway point of the season, we can anticipate second-half drama fit for the Bard himself. Five teams are within seven points of the top of the table; Liverpool leads for the moment, but just by two points over a hard-charging Manchester City squad.
Last season, a similar five-point lead fell by the wayside as Arsenal dropped the ball, and Manchester City overtook them for the Cityzens’ third consecutive league title. Now, as Liverpool will be missing the magic of Salah for a stretch, Manchester City is looking to snatch the title away.
Aston Villa hopes to continue their inspired run, but they’ll have to improve their road play. The Villans have the Premier League’s best home record (nine wins, one draw, one loss), but they are only seventh-best on the road (4-3-4). Luckily for Villa, then, Man City and Arsenal come to Birmingham’s fortress toward the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Arsenal, currently two points out of first place, may have the toughest remaining schedule: They play away games at fellow title contenders Man City and Tottenham, then face a home game against current fourth-place Villa.
Last but not least, Tottenham found themselves atop the league in October but was felled by injuries after their strong start to the season. They regained some of their form over Christmas and New Years but were exposed by a lack of squad depth. They’ll need to remain healthy to have a true shot at glory.
WHEN AND WHERE TO WATCH
For all the sofa-jumping moments in the season to come, DIRECTV customers can watch the Premier League on NBC and USA Network, all the way through to the finale in May.
Find all the action on the pitch — from the Premier League title race to grand international tilts to your hometown MLS club — with DIRECTV’s schedule. And click here for more on watching your favorite sports on DIRECTV so you don’t miss a second.
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