If you’ve ever warily slipped into the discussion about whether the Premier League is too predictable these days (and trust me, you will have done), then it seems as though the players have been eavesdropping, as a tired debate has been given a shot of adrenaline this season in the form of a genuinely unpredictable race for the title.
Chelsea have started handing out points like confetti, United can’t defend a two-goal lead in the 91st minute, The Emirates looks like an easy three points these days, and you can never be sure which version of City and Spurs will turn up on any given day. As the race begins to hot up, any of these five (and maybe even Blackpool) could claim that they stand a realistic chance of finishing top. Here’s a summary of what’s happened so far, and a few predictions for the coming months:
At the start of the season, only a fool would have bet against Chelsea as favourites for the 10/11 crown. Following an impressive 09/10 season of blitzing opponents home and away, the solitary point with which they won the league didn’t necessarily represent the seeming gulf between them and the chasing pack. With Carlo Ancelotti having found a way to play attractive football and get consistent results, it seems as though Roman Abramovic had finally found his man.
However, injuries and a collective loss of form have threatened to derail the Blues after a great start to the season. With Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba suffering injuries at various stages, and the worrying nerve problem for John Terry having no definite cause or cure, the loss of defensive partner Alex at the same time is a major concern for Ancelotti, whose side shipped three at home to Sunderland, and looked well beaten. Much will rest on when the central duo regain their fitness, and whether the man with the magic eyebrow will dip into the January transfer market to buy a fit, able replacement.
It’s been an odd start to the season for United, in that while they remain unbeaten in over 20 games, and haven’t yet conceded a goal in the Champions League group stages, frustrating draws have formed the basis of the assault to reclaim the league crown. With the added incentive of reaching the hallowed 19th title, United’s attacking play has been surprisingly fluent despite the absence of a certain Croxteth-born striker, yet the problems have primarily lain in midfield and defence.
With Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez has dazzled supporters with his early impact and exuberant nature, his efforts up front have somewhat masked the sluggishness in the central midfield, and the frailty at the back. Owen Hargreaves’ rotten luck with injuries continues, and when Paul Scholes is missing, there is a worrying lack of creativity. A horrible injury to Antonio Valencia against Rangers has forced Ferguson in to calling on the likes of Gabriel Obertan and Bebe, and although they have exceeded (minimal) expectations, there is a real lack of a settled, quality midfield combination. Nani has continued his steady improvement, and a return of 4 goals and 9 assists is a great return for any winger at this stage of play.
If United can find a creative central midfielder in the transfer window and get Wayne Rooney back in to goal-scoring form, then they are in with a great chance; however, it remains to be seen just how tight the Glazers’ purse strings will remain come January after giving the striker a bumper new contract.
Repeated cries from Arsenal supporters of “this will be the year!” haven’t fooled anyone yet, and while they’ve played a great style of football, and (perhaps more impressively) added some steel to their performances, a collective dereliction of duty in the face of adversity looks set to deny them once again.
While Arsene Wenger’s men blew Spurs away in the first half at The Emirates, the rate at which his players wilted under Spurs’ moderate second-half pressure was frankly embarrassing, and their shocking home form threatens to undo all their hard work away from home.
Samir Nasri looks like he will be a star for years to come, and the emergence of Jack Wilshere has put a smile on fans of the Gunners and England alike, but what they really need is a reliable keeper, a strong, no-nonsense centre-back, and a midfield general who is, quite frankly, a bit of a bastard.
I’m of the belief that if you put Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher into Arsenal’s side, they could potentially walk the league by about 10 points, but will Wenger spend the necessary cash in order to beef up his team with a few leaders?
With Liverpool sinking like a stone, these two clubs look like they could be the basis of forming a ‘Big Five’ with the above clubs. With Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and some other players cutting through the CL group stages, Spurs look like they have been playing on the big stage for years.
Their squad boasts undoubted talent, and strength in depth, although the same doubts remain as to which version of Spurs will turn up on the day. This is the same team that annihilated Inter Milan, only to then ship 4 goals against (an albeit resurgent) Bolton side days later.
The goalkeeper Gomes encapsulates the Spurs conundrum aptly – on his day, he is arguably one of the finest keepers in the world, but he is liable to make a massive mistake every few games. Perhaps it’s all just a learning curve, and when Harry Redknapp and his players learn what’s expected for each game, they will then e a fearsome challenger.
Manchester City, on the other hand, could stake a claim for the title if Roberto Mancini stopped trying to play every single defensive midfielder that is on the books every. single. week. With the likes of David Silva, Adam Johnson and Carlos Tevez in attacking positions, it would be foolish to write them off, but to grab the points needed to claim top spot, Mancini will have to realise that taking off Tevez with three minutes to go, and putting Gareth Barry on instead will not win you the game.
So, after an odd start to the league, and with no real front-runner a third of the way through the season, who do you think stands a real chance of taking the crown for 2010/11? Will ‘Lamps’ and ‘JT’ return to guide Chelsea to back-to-back titles, or will the new lean, mean, money-machine ‘Wazza’ wrangle his way back into United’s bosom by gunning them to glory? Will Wenger sign an ‘el bastardo’ to shout at the younglings, or will ‘Arry or Roberto seize on this great chance to jump above the usual contenders?
What do you think?