The Premier League is thought of as an overly physical division around Europe, but nobody can deny that it is by far the strongest and most competitive league in the world at the moment. With at least five teams believing they have genuine title chances and a whole host of clubs battling relegation down the bottom, it seems anyone can beat anyone on their day.
The Premier League is also host to many different styles of teams, so each side will face a different challenge to overcome each week, something that is completely engrossing about English football. Whether a team will park the bus or attack from the off, there is not one easy game in the top flight and to win this division should not be thought of lightly as a club will need a variety of skills to be consistently at the top.
Sir Alex Ferguson has dominated the Premier League era with 12 titles to his name; he has consistently used a mixture of youth and experience, new signings and academy players, to produce title winning sides on a regular basis. They have always been a good side to watch and have had some of the greatest players in the world pull on the famous shirt, including Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.
Some Premier League clubs have been less attractive to watch and are often criticised by fans and press alike for playing a negative style of football and using boring tactics. If the clubs are getting results, then surely they should not change their ethos just to please outsiders, and perhaps affect their club’s Premier League position.
Under Sam Allardyce, Bolton Wanderers were a consistent top half side after promotion into the top flight, even with long ball tactics and physical play; they worked their way into Europe and earned some famous victories over Manchester United and Arsenal. The Reebok was a feared place to go for an away team and you would rarely bet against the Whites at home, no matter who their opponents were.
Allardyce did a fantastic job with a club on a small budget and with a relatively small fan base, which has meant the club have still not fully recovered from his departure. New manager Owen Coyle has changed the way the Trotters play, and the more attractive, attacking, big spending side has been praised by many as a more pleasant team to watch under the new regime.
However, it is not all good news for the fans of Bolton as since the departure of Allardyce their league positions have slowly slipped. The side currently sit in the relegation zone and have struggled for points this season, no matter what sort of style of play they set out with. The Wanderers fans would surely prefer to revert to the Allardyce time, with top 10 finishes, the odd European adventure and big-name players wanting to join the club.
Long gone are the days of Jay-Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo, Youri Djorkaeff and Nicolas Anelka, it’s now time for David N’Gog and Darren Pratley to lead the side out of the relegation trouble that they will almost certainly be in this season. If Bolton had stuck with what they knew best then it could have been a different story.
A similar club, with similar ambitions this season are Stoke City, a club that are playing in Europe for the first time after a terrific run in last year’s FA Cup that saw them reach Wembley. A relatively new Premier League club that made the Britannia Stadium a fortress in their first year in the top flight but have slowly fallen from that light.
The long throw of Rory Delap was undoubtedly their main asset when promoted to the Prem and teams just could not deal with it, giving the Potters an edge before the game had even started with psychological nerves from the opposition visible to see at times. However this season the long throw has been less effective and the club have started to introduce players that are just as confident with the ball on the floor as they are in the air; something that was clearly missing 24 months ago. The neat footballers are regulars in the Stoke side and I feel they could be going along the same path as Bolton.
Hovering above the relegation zone, the Potters have finished with fewer points gradually in the last few years and they can’t afford to do that again. European football seems to have taken an effect on the side and they will need to pick up a run of form to avoid being dragged down with their relegation rivals. If they reverted to their style of three years ago, where they would physically dominate teams and make the Britannia Stadium one of the toughest places to go to in the league, then they should be fine. It may not be pretty to watch but success is the key in modern day football and board members, owners, fans and management alike are not happy if the side is losing.
Other clubs are a lot more demanding that their sides play good football, something that is only possible if you have the players to do so, and if you attempt it with a group of mediocre players it could become disastrous. West Ham supporters always like to see good football played at Upton Park on a regular basis but it is not always possible and they have had to find out the hard way. Sam Allardyce has come in and installed some strength and a tougher mentality at West Ham this summer and they are now playing decent-ish football and winning games, something that must please the fans.
But the supporters were quick to make their thoughts on Allardyce’s appointment heard that he did not play the football they enjoyed to watch. Did they enjoy watching football last season? Losing week after week, humiliation after humiliation? A club must do whatever it takes to win a game or a league sometimes, West Ham will be promoted this season and the supporters will be happy. Success over style should pull through.
There is reverse situation to the before mentioned clubs. Arsenal; over the past decade; have been one of the best teams to watch on the pitch, free flowing passing with skill and flair all over the park, making them the Barcelona of England. But they haven’t won anything!
The Gunners fans are desperate to win a major trophy but it appears that playing the football that they do, it may not happen any time soon. But surely they should not revert to the Tony Adams days of kicking anything in sight and looking for the ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ chant to make a comeback. Their fans have wanted the club to sign defenders and holding midfielders for a few years now but would that not be a defensive move from the stubborn Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal will stick with what they know and Wenger will look to replace the departed Fabregas and Nasri but not with the sort of players that perhaps the side need. It would be ridiculous for me to say Arsenal should not play their style of football but with clubs such as Manchester City and United able to play in that style and win games it may be the only option for the falling Gunners.
The pressure on managers to play a certain style of football is wrong and a club should play to its strengths not adapt to please the media and narrow minded fans. If your side is winning games, you are happy, not many fans will go away from their stadium disappointed with a 1-0 win, if so you may need a reality check.