With the Premier League over the half way mark, this year has been as competitive as ever with every point and place being fought for from top to bottom. Three teams within three points of each other at the top, there is an almighty battle for the much sought after European spots while numerous sides seem to be embroiled in relegation scrapes already.
Having said that, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking it’s May with the competitive nature of proceedings at the minute but it’s only mid January and we are set for a rollercoaster and entertaining three months of football. A lot of people have been asking whether or not the top sides are declining in standard or are the so called smaller clubs getting better. I think it’s a bit of both but predominantly the smaller clubs are getting bigger and better.
The busy festive period threw up some shock results which couldn’t have been predicted but the question continues to be asked as the competitive nature of the league grows game by game.
There is no doubt that team’s like Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are nowhere near as good at the minute compared to a few seasons ago. Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2005 are long gone and despite the return of Thierry Henry, the Gunners have fallen in quality in recent years.
Likewise Chelsea are not as strong as when they won back to back league titles a couple of seasons ago. The Chelsea side of Mourinho in 2007 is well gone and vulnerabilities and weaknesses continued to be exposed by each passing match.
Teams couldn’t even get a point at the Bridge under Mourinho as he had his Blues side well organised, well drilled and ruthless. It’s the opposite under AVB and that doesn’t have anything to do with the manager but the players. The likes of Terry, Drogba, Lampard and Cech have all got older and fallen by the wayside especially Cech who was central to their successes.
Liverpool seem to be on the way back up under King Kenny and perhaps they might just re-establish their glory days once again in a year or so but they certainly won’t be challenging for the title with players like Adam and Carroll compared to Alonso and Torres of a few years back.
In my opinion, there are three teams in with a strong shout of winning the league, the two Manchester clubs and the surprise package of Tottenham. They have really come from nowhere but if you look back over the past few years under Redknapp, they have made steady progress starting with the Carling Cup to qualifying for the Champions League. They have a great side but perhaps a few injuries to key players such as Modric, Bale or van der Vaart could see their title challenge deteriorate. Nobody can disregard them though and United and City will be wary of Spurs.
There is no doubt that City have got stronger but have United? No is the answer, they still are the best side in England, the Champions, the league’s most successful club, Champions League finalists and all that but United have just slipped in recent weeks culminating in that shock defeat at home to Blackburn.
They started the season so well and in formidable fashion but injuries have meant Ferguson has never really had a full squad to pick from which saw players playing out of position. The loss of Vidic for the season is a big blow considering their defence was a bit shaky even with the Serb at the heart of it. Their goalkeeping conundrum creates uncertainty at the back and with the likes of Carrick and Valencia filling in, the United back four lacks consistency.
Don’t get me wrong, United are still a top side and can outplay anybody on any given day with the players they have but they desperately need a central midfielder. Michael Carrick has re-emerged as a top player over the past month or so but Ferguson can’t seem to find him a partner in there with injuries to Fletcher, Anderson and Cleverley plus Phil Jones having to play at the back.
Somebody like Sneijder would be perfect but there are so few of those sort of players out there for Fergie to snap up. Having been knocked out of the Champions League, they can now concentrate on the league which isn’t a bad thing for the Red Devils.
At Christmas, nobody could see past Man City claiming the crown after they scored on average three goals per game, demolished anyone in their way and scored six at Old Trafford. Things have changed in recent games though and back to back defeats to United and City plus the loss at Sunderland has added doubt to everybody’s mind over whether or not City have the capability of seeing this out.
Out of the Champions League, FA Cup and on the brink of Carling Cup elimination, Mancini’s men might just have the league to concentrate on with the Europa League as an afterthought, Man City aren’t as unbeatable as everybody was making out.
I always said it when people were getting all worked up about City being unstoppable but the games against Liverpool and United showed they like every other side rely heavily on two or three players. Unfortunately for them, they are missing Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany for the next few matches for different reasons. With a few tricky matches coming up, especially the Tottenham game at home, the mood could change very quickly at the Etihad Stadium.
Moving onto the so called smaller clubs, apart from the likes of Wigan, Norwich, QPR and Swansea, clubs who are in the Premier League year in year out have definitely gotten stronger in recent years. I am thinking of the Stokes, Sunderland’s, Fulham’s of the Premier League and these clubs are now attracting bigger and better players.
Even Wigan have some very good players within their ranks and are capable of a shock or two themselves as they showed over Christmas as they held both Chelsea and Liverpool to draws at the DW Stadium. Stoke are one side who have experienced a meteoric rise. Having been promoted from the Championship, Tony Pulis’ men quickly established themselves as a Premier League club and add their players to new and improved facilities, the Potters are now a Premier League club.
They have spent millions on players who supporters wouldn’t have imagined even playing for them in the past- the likes of Pennant, Crouch, Palacios, Woodgate to name a few. FA Cup finalists followed by Europa League qualification means there are no easy games against the Potters as so many clubs have found out.
Others such as Fulham have also come on in recent years but they are still prone to a poor performance like their display against Man United recently. The Premier League is as competitive as ever and each week brings a different surprise or shock and it’s been another great season so far which should go down to the wire at both ends.