In this season’s Premier League none of the big favourites have put together a convincing case for why they should win the title.
Manchester City have lost five times before the turn of the year whilst Arsenal continue to blow hot and cold. Yet it’s both of these clubs who have staked the most convincing claim.
Further down the table, Tottenham are closing the gap on the leaders, but even if their form is some of the best in the league, their young team still looks just that little bit too young. This season might just come a year too soon. Leicester City are still in the reckoning, but they surely don’t have the depth in their squad to win the league. Surely.
Then there’s Manchester United and Chelsea. Neither of those sides have convinced enough to even warrant a Champions League place so far this season. You might even argue that Chelsea don’t even look good value for their Premier league place, such is their current slide.
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The decline and fall of one of the best team in the country last season is spectacular, but it points to the same problems that other teams have had – not just Chelsea.
Last season, Chelsea’s starting lineup was fairly set in its ways. You knew that, if fit, Diego Costa would lead the line. Behind him would be Willian, Oscar and Hazard. And behind them would be Fabregas and Matic. Chelsea knew their best team. This season, the poor form has led to changes on a regular basis.
Manchester United were beaten by Bournemouth for the first time in their history this season. That day, United started with a back four of Varela, McNair, Blind and Borthwick-Jackson. Hardly the back four of Louis van Gaal’s dreams.
Manchester City have had to live without Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Vincent Kompany for most of the season. Even with Aguero and Silva back in the squad against Leicester, they didn’t yet look up to speed.
Arsenal have had to do without Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin for parts of the season. Even now, the Gunners have seven players out, including Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla.
So the lack of convincing performances from the title contenders is less surprising when you look at it under this light.
That doesn’t excuse them completely – after all, all of the teams I have mentioned surely have the resources to deal with injury crises. How Louis van Gaal has managed to spend over a quarter of a billion pounds on players and still field a back four like we saw at Bournemouth is beyond my comprehension. Injuries cannot excuse that: he has the resources to build a better squad than he has done.
But, no matter how badly City and Arsenal are doing, they’re still in good positions in the table. As 2015 turns into 2016, the title race still looks like being between these two, even if Spurs and Leicester still dream of glory.
And if it is down to City and Arsenal, you might even say that the race can be narrowed down even further. On current form, it won’t be just between City and Arsenal, it’ll be between which side can recover their big players from injury the best.
If one team continues to suffer the niggling injuries that have plagued their best players throughout the season but the other is able to get the best players back to full fitness, then that could decide the title.
This one might not see the best team winning the league, just the team with the canniest ability to keep their players fit.
But in an age where hundreds of millions of pound can be spent on squad-building every season, there are no excuses. The title may be decided by who can cope best with injuries, but in reality, every big club should have that ability already.