The 2023/24 English Premier League season has just passed its halfway point, and five teams are within six points of each other at the top. Right now, which will lift the EPL trophy is too close to call, with Liverpool, Aston Villa, Man City, Arsenal, and Tottenham all experiencing ups and downs during the campaign.
With the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and the Asian Cup (AFC) starting in mid-January, much will depend on how these EPL clubs deal with the absence of their players. Actually, four clubs. Defending champions Man City won’t lose any players to the continental showpieces, which likely gives them an advantage over their rivals during this period.
Starting with the longtime title favorites, let’s look at how absentees through international obligations could affect the 2023/24 Premier League title contenders.
Since the season kicked off, Man City has been the firm favorite to retain its title with practically every offshore sportsbook around. A list of the best ones shows that, although its odds have drifted slightly, Pep Guardiola’s team retains the top spot on betting boards at -130.
Star playmaker Kevin de Bruyne is fit again but will need to ease back into competitive soccer. Goal machine Erling Haaland and Jeremy Doku should return imminently, with John Stones, Bernardo Silva, Matheus Nunes, and Kalvin Phillips returning within weeks.
Man City is only an effective two points off Liverpool’s league lead, and with no representatives in Africa or Asia, it’s no surprise The Citizens remain favored for the title.
On paper, Liverpool has been the most consistent EPL title contender, although The Reds have ridden some luck to top the table. Unlike Man City, Liverpool has lost Mohamed Salah and Wataru Endō to the AFCON and AFC showpieces respectively, with Egypt and Japan expected to reach the latter parts of the tournaments.
Liverpool’s consistency has grabbed offshore sportsbooks’ attention, with the Merseyside club’s odds firming to +225. Jurgen Klopp has to negotiate a potential five weeks without his top goalscorer. While the German admits Salah is irreplaceable, he reminds detractors that Liverpool has coped well without him previously.
With a blossoming Harvey Elliott likely to fill in on the right flank, Liverpool believes it can maintain the positive EPL start.
Arsenal began the season as second favorites with offshore sportsbooks but has drifted in the betting to +750. After topping the EPL table at Christmas, The Gunners drew with Liverpool before losing consecutive games to West Ham and Fulham. As a result, Mikel Arteta’s team finds itself in fourth place, five points adrift of the Premier League leaders.
Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny is away at AFCON, with regular central defender Takehiro Tomiyasu representing Japan at the AFC. Of the two, Arsenal will likely miss Tomiyasu will be missed, but there is defensive strength in depth in its squad.
A sustained title challenge may warrant some offensive transfer activity, with Brentford’s ring-rusty Ivan Toney mentioned as a potential target.
Aston Villa and Tottenham
Both Aston Villa have performed excellently over the first half of the season to position themselves for an unlikely title challenge. Although Villa sits second in the log, three points behind Liverpool, pundits believe a lack of quality squad depth could hamper the Villa Park club’s ultimate title challenge. Bookmakers tend to agree, with Unai Emery’s team only fourth favored at +2800.
Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham started the season strongly before injuries to James Maddison and Micky van de Ven slowed progress. Four wins over the festive season have moved Spurs back to fifth, but some potentially devastating departures for the AFCON and AFC tournaments could affect Tottenham’s progression. The London club finds odds of +3300 with offshore sportsbooks.
Spurs lose captain and star player Son Heung-min, Pape Matar Sarr, and Yves Bissouma while their nations participate in continental competition. Aston Villa is less affected, missing only backup player Bertrand Traoré.