In recent weeks, displays from the majority of the Premier Leagues ‘big sides’ have dropped off, prompting some to ask the question: has the Premier League lost its mojo? The likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool have all suffered a downturn in performance levels, with Newcastle and Manchester City being the only teams that can claim to be in good form.
After witnessing the definition of the ‘bore draw’ between Chelsea and Arsenal, it was clear to see that level of performance being produced was well below what should be expected of such talented squads. Yes, Chelsea had a mentally and physically draining encounter with Barcelona, re-shuffling their squad as a result, and Arsenal were missing a few key men through injury, namely Mikel Arteta, but that does not detract from the dyer spectacle produced.
These sides were not alone, as Liverpool, predictably, dominated a home tie, failed to score and were punished by a comical goal on the break, whilst Manchester United temporarily forgot how to defend and Spurs continued their current slide from title contenders to Europa League qualification spot contenders. Although Manchester City managed victory, their performance was slightly subdued, and obviously nervy, making Newcastle the only truly impressive outfit at the upper end of the table last weekend.
Its understandable to see performances drop off occasionally at this end of the season, with the physical demands of the modern game weighing heavy of players across the division, but there has been a noticeable slump for many of the top clubs for a period of time now. In truth the top level sides have been fairly poor across the majority of the season, struggling to find both form and consistency, which, no disrespect to Newcastle, has allowed outsiders to sneak up the table and disturb the normally established order. Liverpool’s failures in front of goal have seen local rivals Everton ghost ahead, and the likes of Swansea and Fulham come within touching distance of their coat tails.
Tottenham’s woes have been perhaps the most shocking, as the London club have slipped further and further from the top of the table, after an initially promising campaign. The disturbance of Harry Redknapp due to the vacant England management role may be a contributing factor, but the main issue remains a lack of tactical know how on the part of the former Southampton and Portsmouth boss. He has a core of talented and strong players who play every possible league match when fit, and the lack of rotation, coupled with the club’s fast and furious style of play has led to a real issue in terms of fatigue to key squad members, such as Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.
Manchester United have proved that they are far from immune, almost forgetting that to secure the title, they must obtain results, rather than relying on their noisy neighbours stuttering. The defeat to Wigan summed up their recent stroll towards the line, with an apparent lack of interest being shown up by the battling Premier League barnacles. As a result the upcoming Manchester derby no longer presents the chance to lift the trophy in their enemy’s back yard, but the scenario of waving the Citizens past, due to their superior goal difference.
As displayed by Tottenham, tiring players is a contributing factor to a drop in displays. It can’t be a coincidence that Arsenal have surged back up the table after many of their star men missed long periods of the early season. Spurs haven’t suffered serious injuries to key men, Aaron Lennon aside, resulting in major players becoming ever present, leading to fatigue.
In the cases of Chelsea and Liverpool, cup success appears to be gaining importance. The Blues now face the possibility of a cup double, after eliminating the Kings of Europe, Barcelona, to claim a spot in the Champions League final, whilst also having the little matter of the FA Cup final to consider, where they will be taking on Liverpool.
The lack of quality this term should not really come as a shock, with star names over the past few seasons heading for sunnier destinations across Europe, swapping their apartments in the rainy England for villas in Spain. Cristiano Ronaldo was quick to leave, arguably, England’s biggest club for Real Madrid, following Xabi Alonso, and encouraging former Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas to return to his homeland. Away from the top sides, clubs across the Premier League now struggle to compete in terms of attracting star names, with many opting to either stay put, or head to other leagues across Europe, whether that be to Spain for footballing reasons, or some areas of Eastern Europe for the vast financial rewards.
Although there has been a noticeable drop from the top-sides in recent months, it shouldn’t be a real surprise as the quality of England’s domestic top-flight slowly reduces. Success around Europe tends to operate in cycles, with Italy becoming the all conquering force during the mid to late 1990’s, before surrendering their crown to England during the mid 2000’s, during which time Liverpool claimed victory and reached another final, while Manchester United and Chelsea turned a Premier League fixture into a European final. Although the Premiership remains one of the elite world leagues, it is no longer the Goliath among Davids.
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