The urge to take David Moyes to the cleaners (He’d presumably tell this blog the entire way that all he can do is try and win the next match) on this first piece was almost too much to avoid. This blog supposes that it would be justified in doing so and would like to think that it would be rational about it too (mostly anyway). But we’ve looked past our own myopia and the imaginary intoxicant in our hand to notice a fascinating race to the Premier League Title race somewhere down the road.
At this point last season, United had 65 points and were 12 points clear of Manchester City, 14 ahead of Chelsea, 15 ahead of Tottenham and 21 ahead of Arsenal. In 2011-12, City had 63 points at this stage and were 2 ahead of United. Crucially they were 8 ahead of Tottenham (I couldn’t fathom it either!) and 17 ahead of both Arsenal and Chelsea. In 2010-11 United had 57 points and were 4 ahead of Arsenal, 8 ahead of Manchester City and 10 ahead of Tottenham (they are really good at bottling things in the latter half of the season).
Currently, Chelsea lead with 57 points and are 1 ahead of Arsenal (who really should have been braver against a rotten United side), 3 ahead of City who have a game in hand and crucially are only 4 ahead of Liverpool. Optimistically, they are 7 ahead of Tottenham but this blog prefers to ground itself in reality rather than fantasy and to include Tottenham in the title race would be akin to this blog expecting a reply from Emily Blunt agreeing to date it and upon said fantastical date agreeing to marry it as well. However, we digress.
For those slightly slow on the uptake, this season is so exciting because even Liverpool in fourth have a great chance of winning it. No wait, the fact that they have a real chance at all is what makes this season so fascinating. Whatever was missing has been added by Jose Mourinho. The idea that Chelsea are in any sense “little” and that Manchester City are leagues ahead of them is utterly laughable. His constant proclamation that Chelsea’s realistic aim remains the top four and constantly pushing the agenda that other teams (mostly Manchester City, sometimes Arsenal and lately even Liverpool) are in a better position to win seems too deferential to be treated as anything else but part of a mindgame.
Let’s look at each of these teams for a bit though. Chelsea currently sit top having played a game more than City. They have by and large looked impressive and in Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar have the best trio of attacking midfielders/wide players that any team can boast. Hazard in particular has been fabulous this season. The one weak spot that Chelsea had was filled in overwhelming fashion with the return of Nemanja Matic (sold eons ago to Benfica in part exchange for David Luiz). That Matic was so instrumental in making Chelsea the first team to prevent City from scoring at the Etihad in a gazillion years represents why Chelsea brought him back at such a price. They look like a well drilled team and have enough depth apart from their strikers who look like they could do anything but score regularly (Cue Torres joke at leisure). To be honest though, Chelsea have rarely been wanting for goals since their midfield and defense chips in often. However, if there is one reason that they could suffer in the title race, it is the fact that they lack a functioning strike force especially when you consider the riches on offer at other title rivals.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger seem steadfast in their vision to show that squad depth is a concept that is best left to idiots. Indeed, having Nicklas Bendtner as your second striker can only imply that you’re putting an awful lot of pressure on Olivier Giroud (given Podolski’s injury problems and propensity to play from the left). But the performances of Mesut Ozil (pre-January), Jack Wilshere (till he got injured again), lately Oxlade Chamberlain and most importantly Aaron f***ing Ramsey have been monumental in Arsenal’s unlikely ascendancy and prolonged stay. Indeed, one can expect them to be here for the long haul. The only thing in Arsenal’s way (barring injuries) is how much they can overcome their mental block especially when faced with challengers around them and teams that are either better or as good on paper. To put things in perspective, they have picked up only 8 points in fixtures against Manchester United (home and away), City (away), Liverpool (home and away), Everton (home), Tottenham (home) and Chelsea (home). In doing so they have conceded 13 goals and scored 7. They have failed to score against both United and Chelsea, scored consolations against Liverpool and City and a solitary goal against Everton. They only managed to look comfortable against Tottenham in the early part of Sherwood’s reign.
Manchester City arguably have the strongest squad in the division. Their strikeforce and midfield have been stupendous and Pellegrini has created a system that allows City to simply steamroll opponents at will and even scorelines where City have scored 4 or 5 seem flattering. Their defensive worries have mostly been taken care of although doubts are bound to crop up anytime Martin Demichelis trundles onto the pitch. Pellegrini has exchanged City’s early away jitters for a beast that is relentless in attack and dogged when required in defense. The only doubt that remains is whether they can conjure the same tempo on a regular basis without Aguero and Fernandinho in the side. Moreover, as the Chelsea game showed, City are vulnerable to teams that are well drilled and play lightning quick counter attacks. City are also likely to be tested that much more due to their continued presence in 4 competitions.
Liverpool are the dark horses in this title race whose constant job is to flirt with bookies who disregard them for weeks at end (due to some terrible results that were unexpected) and currently place them at lower odds than Arsenal to win the title. The notion was reinforced by a devastating 20 minutes where they absolutely destroyed Arsenal in a display that deserves Champions League Football on its own, Sturridge, Suarez and lately Coutinho and Raheem Sterling have been fantastic with such breathtaking build up play and finishing that one wonders if Liverpool had managed to maintain better consistency and managed to just get some cover for Lucas Leiva and an upgrade to both Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho (anyone, including this blog has better positional awareness than Cissokho), what might have been. While Suarez and Sturridge have been mesmerizing they have been ably aided by the second most improved player this season after Ramsey in Jordan Henderson who has finally begun to fulfill the enormous promise that saw a hefty transfer fee and an inclusion into England’s Euro 2012 squad. Given that they have no competition but the Premier League to compete in, maybe Mourinho is right in saying that fatigue will not be a factor for Liverpool. However, anytime Rodgers has built them up, they have responded in miserable fashion so it is perhaps best to keep hopes in check.
Given that this blog has already declared its allegiances (painfully so. Screw you David!), we don’t really have a bone in this fight. But inasmuch as warming the cockles of a neutral’s heart goes, we’re willing to put our nether regions (see what we did there to Sexism) on the line and say that no one wants either City or Chelsea to succeed since it would represent a worldwide trend where the rich get whatever they want. The remaining two are more likely to be backed by neutrals although which one depends on one’s relative hate for either of the two. We also do not hesitate to crush this hope by telling you that this is unlikely to happen. Both City and Chelsea are too strong and it does seem much more likely that Liverpool are not the finished article yet. As for Arsenal, injuries and a lack of a bench retaining the same capacity as their first team will eventually take its toll on a campaign that promised so much.
All of this (which the blog readily admits is shallow analysis and furthermore promises a more detailed, nuanced review henceforth) makes for an exciting title race and one that will surely test nerves, raise and kill expectations, break hearts while serving as the epitome of joy for some. While this blog desperately waits for United to either get their act together or Emily Blunt to reply to us (and we admit that the latter seems more likely), the rest of the Premier League is keeping this blog sane and keeping that handgun locked away somewhere in the dark. After all, weekends are what a group of us desperately wait for.
(The first image of all the teams in the Premier League for the 2013/2014 season has been taken under the Creative Commons License from Flickr user Toby Jagmohan here.)
(The image of Jose Mourinho has been taken under the Creative Commons License from Flickr user Ronnie Macdonald here.)
(The image of Arsene Wenger has been taken under the Creative Commons License from Wikipedia Commons here.)
(The image of Manuel Pellegrini has been taken under the Creative Commons License from Wikipedia Commons here.)
(The image of Brendan Rodgers has been taken under the Creative Commons License from Wikipedia Commons here.)