A new year is upon us and 2011 is set to stage one of the most open title races in the history of the Premier League. Is this as good for English football as it is for the neutral supporter? Interesting certainly, but good for the game?
As we enter the new year everybody’s least favourite team Manchester United top the table and with games in hand up their sleeve. Miraculously, given what a turbulent season we have seen so far, United have gone unbeaten up to this point only very rarely impressing along the way. It has been indifferent on the performance side of things from Sir Alex Ferguson’s troops bar a few notable exceptions including the 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers and the 3-2 victory over arch-rivals Liverpool. Even the victory over Liverpool saw them negligently surrender a two goal advantage before Dimitar Berbatov salvaged three points with a piece of magic that he and pretty much only he could muster. Never before could a team boast such a consistently below-par level of performance whilst cruising to a position comfortably situated at the summit of the league come January. If this had been any other league season it is near certain that Manchester United’s form would of seen them soundly beaten five or six times come this stage, not this one however. The Red Devils have demonstrated defensive frailty, an ever-changing and unsettled midfield and up-front their star man Rooney has endured his much reported ‘annus horribilis’, all this yet they are dominating the race for the title. Surely this is reflective of a drop in standards?
What of United’s loosely termed ‘challengers’. Well.. most intriguing of the bunch must be their neighbours Manchester City. Currently City are level on points with United having played two more games much owing to the unstoppable form of their talismanic skipper and ex-United star Carlos Tevez. It is his form that has driven his otherwise under-performing side into second place in the league and their best half-way points tally in the Premier League. Tevez is undoubtedly world class and the owners of the club certainly possess the financial clout that could see big-money arrivals this month. However, it seems unlikely that a team with one absolute superstar and an unsettled squad otherwise would be capable of seeing off Ferguson’s men. It could happen but it seems a little out of City’s reach for now.
Next are the usual suspects Arsenal and Chelsea. The latter’s year has gone from the ecstasy of a domestic league and cup double and early season domination into absolute ruins over the last couple of months. The sudden loss of form from such a talented squad is utterly staggering and it is clear that all is not well within their camp. The usually unflappable force that is manager Carlo Ancellotti seems distant and agitated, star man Didier Drogba can’t buy a goal and is desperately lacking any sort of form or fitness and the press are swarming around the apparent unrest at the Bridge. The recent slide sees them six points a drift of the leaders having already played one more game. It would take another twist of biblical proportion to reignite any challenge from the Blues when it comes to the business end.
Arsenal on the other hand are brimming as ever with youthful exuberance and talent. The football being played by Arsene Wenger’s outfit has as ever been delectable. Such beauty is there to behold but Wenger must again be ruing his side’s lack of substance when confronted with an organised and physical opponent. Losses to Newcastle and Manchester United horribly exposed Arsenal’s lack of strength and experience, yet again, Wenger protests his team’s increasing nous. The recent victory over Chelsea has sparked an air of belief within the camp that has been vacant for a few years now, but two points adrift with a game more played than United could it be another year void of silverware for the Gunners?
The last real contenders are Tottenham. Led by the signing of the summer Rafael Van Der Vaart and the wizardry of young Gareth Bale Spurs have become outsiders to win the league. It will surely take a couple more transfer coups this month from ‘wheeler’dealer ‘Arry’ Redknapp to seriously pose a threat but stranger things have happened already this season!
So, for now Sir Alex can sit tight with a smile on his battle-hardened face as United continue to stumble towards yet another title. It is advisable though that he does keep a watchful eye on the many challengers in case a minor miracle occurs and one of them actually hits form. The neutral fan will be salivating over the battle ahead, however, it is undeniable that standards have dropped in our beloved league. This off the back of a more than disappointing showing in the World Cup and World Cup bid for 2018 should be causing concern amongst fans and must surely worry the powers-that-be at the FA headquarters. A new year is here lets hope the English game fights back.
Premier League Predictions: 1.Manchester United, 2. Chelsea, 3.Manchester City, 4.Arsenal, 5. Tottenham… 18.Wigan, 19.West Brom, 20. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Players of the season so far: Carlos Tevez, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Darren Fletcher, Dimitar Berbatov, Charlie Adam, Samir Nasri, Luis Nani, Kevin Davies, Johan Elmander, Darren Bent
Young Players of the season so far: Gareth Bale, Andy Carroll, Seamus Coleman, Danny Wellbeck, Javier Hernandez, Rafael, Joe Hart, Adam Johnson
Managers of the year: Ian Holloway, Harry Redknapp, Chris Hughton, Owen Coyle