As the curtains are drawn on the first quarter of the 2010/11 season and it is consigned to the archives of Premier League history, ready to be repeated ad infinitum over the summer months on ‘The Premier League Years’, there is one thing you can say about it; it has been far from dull. So as the clocks retreat an hour for the winter months, signalling frozen pitches, a cup of Bovril in the stands and the dreaded half-time temperature drop, here are 10 observations from the season thus far, in the months when a white football could still be seen at football grounds up and down the country.
IT’S ALL BUSINESS…
Surely the most talked about event in the first quarter of the season has been Wayne Rooney’s now infamous U-Turn on his contract at Manchester United, and with Robbie Savage’s comments yesterday about footballers being worth their outrageous salaries, this has highlighted once more that football is all about the money. With the EU trying to pull UEFA into line with other industries regarding its transfer policies, clubs treating their players like fiscal commodities and their fans like mugs, is it any wonder the players are treating clubs like cash cows?
...BUT FOOTBALL IS A VERY HUMAN GAME AT HEART
With all the greed and corruption rife within the sport, it is at times easy to overlook that at the most basic level these players and managers are human. Whether it has been the outpouring of emotion at Malcolm Allison’s passing, Avram Grant’s observance of Yom Kippur, Tony Pulis’ half-time intervention to guide Stoke to victory against Aston Villa after the death of his mother or Carlos Tevez’s alleged homesickness, these stories have put money and business to one side and brought the world of football down to earth.
THE MIGHTY CAN FALL
The shock of the season thus far must be Liverpool’s dismal start. The presence of the Merseyside giants in the relegation zone sparked a zealous bout of finger pointing at Anfield that is still continuing, with former manager Rafa Benitez having a somewhat cryptic go at current boss Roy Hodgson; ‘Some can’t see a priest on a mountain of sugar’, err, ok Rafa. But in the world of modern football this is a bit of a wake-up call to the bigger teams, namely that if you let things slip off the field, you can, and will, find yourself down the wrong end of the table.
IT IS STILL VERY OPEN With only 6 points separating Wolves in 19th and Tottenham in 5th the league is still very open after 10 games, and as Everton have proven with 2 wins and a draw in their last 3 games, a run of decent results can propel you up the table and have you chasing down European spots rather than glancing over your shoulder at the dark abyss of the relegation.
THE GAP BETWEEN THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND THE PREMIERSHIP IS NOT AS BIG AS WE ALL THINK There used to be a time when it was a matter of how many of the promoted teams would get relegated, not if any would at all. But with all three promoted sides lying in the top half of the table after 10 games for the first time in 10 years, there is a distinct possibility all 3 will experience a second consecutive season in the Premier League. But with the likes of Hull City and Burnley having made barnstorming starts over the past couple of seasons, Blackpool, West Brom and Newcastle will do well not to celebrate too prematurely.
FORGET 5 HORSE OR 7 HORSE RACES, IT’S A 1 HORSE RACE… Having said how close the league table is at the moment, the biggest single points differential between two places is between Chelsea in first and Arsenal in second, and after 10 games there is already a 5 point gap. Of course it only takes two games to nullify this difference, but not only would that require Chelsea to slip up, it would also require the chasing pack to capitalise, something which, thus far, they have all failed to do. When Chelsea play well, they destroy teams, when they play badly, they grind out results, and having seen Manchester United do exactly this for the past two decades, the smart money must be on Chelsea to retain their title.
…HOWEVER, BEWARE THE RED DEVILS But with an unbeaten Manchester United sitting comfortably in 3rd place, on the same points as Arsenal, Chelsea, like the promoted teams, would do well not to count their chickens just yet. With the Wayne Rooney saga out of the way and a new striking sensation in Javier Hernandez beginning to hit top gear, United, under the indomitable Sir Alex Ferguson will be looking to cling to the reigning champions’ coat-tails as the season enters the New Year, with a particularly tasty looking tie at Stamford Bridge on December 19th providing a stern test of United’s credentials.
IT IS NICE TO HAVE A CHARACTER BACK IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE Moaning is one thing, we hear it week in week out from Mick ‘broken record’ McCarthy, and to a certain extent from other managers, but moaning and ranting in a hilarious fashion is an entirely different entity. This is why it is great to have Ian Holloway in the Premier League. In a rather sanitised world of football it is always nice to watch an interview where you can honestly say you have no idea what is going to happen. Whether it is the fact he is a sandwich short of a picnic, or whether it is because of his thick West Country accent, Holloway provides entertainment every week and I salute him for that. A particular favourite must be his Wayne Rooney rant; ‘You buy a house you own the deeds… what if it’s 24 years you’ve had it for and then it can just toddle off and do what it likes’. What a world that would be.
SPURS CAN HACK IT IN EUROPE
After a rather treacherous trip to Switzerland in qualifying, Tottenham very nearly didn’t make it to the Champions League at all, but having successfully negotiated that obstacle, Spurs are more than holding their own in Europe, currently sitting second in their group to reigning champions Inter Milan. With Gareth Bale lighting up Europe with sensational displays, Spurs will be hoping their first venture into Europe’s premier club competition for 50 years will carry on well into the New Year.
IT ALL BODES WELL FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON
As is the case with most seasons, the opening quarter has opened many a can of worms and, like an episode of Lost, has left you asking more and more questions without answering any of them. Will Liverpool rise out of their slump? Will Chelsea run away with the title? Will West Ham ever get off the bottom of the table? Will the promoted clubs stay up? And will Wayne Rooney ever be the same again? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.