Wednesday, 15 December 2010

It's not really going to plan, is it?

This has not been a season for the favourites in football has it? We have Middlesbrough, favourites to take Championship glory, languishing just outside of the relegation zone. Southampton, favourites for League 1, are struggling to find consistency as they continue to throw away valuable points and Premiership favourites Chelsea, sitting in fourth place, have hit a slump the likes of which we haven't seen in years, and it's not even that bad of a slump. It just goes to show you that in football, things aren't as predictable as we once thought.

I guess inconsistency is rife in the lower leagues, so Southampton are just following the natural order and Middlesbrough have been simply awful this year and have no-one to blame but themselves. But why are Chelsea failing? Well, the main reason behind their current struggle is that many of the other teams in the league have gotten much better and the level of competition has increased. In the Premiership we now have “smaller” teams (hardly the right word, but I think you know what I mean) regularly beating those in the “big four” (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and, although I don't think they deserve to be a part of it, Liverpool).

For example, Manchester City have become a massive threat to all of the “big four”. They are now the richest club in the world and, even though it isn't the most admirable way of gaining success, their money and power in the transfer market will mean it is only a matter of time before the real Manchester club wins the Premiership (Man Utd fans can send me hate mail if they want, it doesn't make it less true). It's not just Man City and their billions either.

Teams like West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, newly promoted from the Championship, have taken points off Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. In years gone by this would not have happened. This is surely a sign that many of the smaller clubs in the Premiership have made some progress in recent years. Even Alex Ferguson believes this is the case. Of course, it was admit that or say that his team has gotten worse...

Everton have often been a threat, as have Aston Villa over the past couple of seasons. Big, physical sides like Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers have also enjoyed some success against the "big four" in recent times. Likewise, it would seem that Tottenham Hotspur, the Premiership's perennial underachievers, have finally got themselves into a position where they can challenge for a top three spot.

While we may never see a really drastic change to the top three sides in the Premiership, the higher level of competition is definitely making the title race a lot more exciting. Right now the top of the table looks enticing:

1st Manchester United – 34pts
2nd Arsenal – 32pts
3rd Manchester City – 32pts
4th Chelsea – 31pts
5th Tottenham Hostpur – 27pts
9th Liverpool – 22pts

While Man Utd do have a game in hand, it is not, as it may have been two or three years ago, a guaranteed three points. In fact, if that extra game proves to be an away game, United will be happy with just one point as they have been less than convincing away from Old Trafford's soil.

Liverpool, much like last season, are also going through a rough patch. However, unlike Chelsea, their trouble can be attributed entirely to the terrible running of the club and the average quality of the players that have been brought in. In addition, Torres and Gerrard, their only two great players (other than Pepe Reina of course) have not been that good and have had injuries to contend with. Simply put, without those two in the side, Liverpool are very, very ordinary. Hodgson has spent a fair amount of cash since his arrival on some real tripe. While Raul Meireles is starting to find his feet, Christian Poulsen has looked like a fish out of water since his switch from the slow paced Serie A to the fast paced Premiership, which is odd considering Scandinavians usually adapt very well to the English game.

Chelsea haven't imploded like Liverpool so the slump they have hit is not really their own fault. It is simply the case that everyone else is upping their game. I guess this is a change for the better for the Premiership. The more teams that can challenge for Europe and the Champions League, the better. If a couple of extra teams want to throw their hat in for the Premiership title as well, I won't complain.

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