With the league having been so inconsistent this season the theory that the strength in depth of England’s top flight has increased certainly carries some credence.
Looking at the top 3 in the league right now and Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd all have glaring weaknesses. This is not to say that teams in the past that have challenged for the title haven’t, but this season more so than any other I can remember this is apparent. Arsenal are brittle boned and overly reliant on Cesc Fabregas and to an extent Robin Van Persie, the same can certainly be said of Utd with Rooney and Chelsea with Drogba but not to the same degree. Chelsea have an ageing squad that lacks a spark of seasons just past and Man Utd’s back four has struggled to get out consistently enough and Rooney has at times carried them.
The rest of the league has sought to take advantage of these weaknesses and the result is now a betting man’s worst nightmare. Arsenal have been written off more than once this season, but after a favourable run of games and with a fairly easy set of remaining fixtures they are well within a chance of snatching the title.
It’s been an odd season in that respect. Consistency is what wins you league’s and last season that is what just pipped Man Utd ahead of rivals Liverpool, but this year the only consistency the top 3 have shown is in being inconsistent. Chelsea have let leads slip against opponents this season, something that’s not normally associated with the professional and tight manner they play the game. The result against Blackburn, letting a single goal advantage slip has been present in results against Villa, Wigan, Everton and Man City also.
Man Utd’s problems are of a different variety and for consistency they probably just shade it this season in what is quickly turning out to be a contest of ‘who is the tallest midget’. Their defensive frailties have been exposed and injuries have played a huge part, as has Rooney’s exceptional form.
So has the rest of the league got stronger, or have the top teams got weaker?
In true Trevor Brooking fashion I’m going to sit on the fence on this one, for I feel it’s some way inbetween the two. None of the traditional top four invested too heavily or outside of their means at least in the summer, and the players that have been brought in have been largely successful (even Aquilani’s showing glimpses, if and when he plays). In football if you don’t evolve you die, well not die, but don’t succeed.
It’s simply a case of team’s figuring out how to play against the best more effectively because they haven’t evolved their style of play enough. There’s a way to stop Chelsea as shown by Inter, stop the full backs getting forward and cut off their width. There’s a way to stop Utd, attack them and I know it sounds spurious, stop Rooney. There’s a way to stop Arsenal, cut off the supply to Fabregas and there’s little threat going forward. These plans have been well documented and it seems most teams are finally beginning to take advantage of them now.
This does breed inconsistency but also brings with it excitement, we have a genuine three way title race for the first time in a long while, the relegation battle is far from being concluded and the fight for fourth spot is extremely tight and interesting.
Look around Europe and in Scotland, it’s always been a case of Rangers and Celtic, plus one other every now and then, in Spain there’s Barcelona and Real Madrid with the others playing the third place for the most part, in France there’s been Lyon for ages and now there’s Bordeux and Marseille, but it’s in Germany where the league now looks to have taken its lead from.
An evening out in the quality of the sides has seen the Bundesliga title go to five separate winners this decade (Bayern, 2000, 2001, 2003 2005, 2006, 2008, Dortmund, 2002, Werder Bremen, 2004, Stuttgart, 2007, and Wolfsburg, 2009), and it would be great if the same sort of diversity in victors were to be brought to the Premiership. The Bundesliga is a shining example of both excitement and unpredictability, and whilst Bayern still maintain an element of hegemony, they are no longer assured a safe passage to the title simply because of increased resources.
This year has been exciting for so many reasons and the very dynamics of the league have been turned on its head – the traditional big four, which shows signs of changing very soon, and their lack of spending compared to other years has helped the league become more competitive and even though it may have ended any hopes of an accumulator win that I may ever have harboured, it’s uncertainty is definitely welcome and overdue.
Whilst the top four get weaker, the rest of the league get’s stronger and that is a good thing for English football’s top flight, the footballing recession and tightening of belts around clubs all over the country could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Premiership and its claim to be the best league in the world.
What does everyone else think?
Written By James McManus