The gap between the top three and the rest is rapidly decreasing
With one glance at the Premier League table, there is obviously something quite odd about it. It looks as if the gap between the very best and the once ‘average’ teams has decreased. And quite rapidly, too. There’s almost a feeling of ‘decline’ amongst the top three; but that only tells half of the story.
Look at Manchester United. So far, they are averaging two points a game and if things were to stay the same and remain equal, and their rivals were to continue at their current rate, the Red Devils would win the league with 78 points. Arsenal and Chelsea will closely follow, yet ’78’ is no figure to show off with. That would be the lowest total since the Millenium. This automatically screams out ‘decline’ but, by looking further, there is much more than what meets the eye.
Course, if United’s game with Blackpool went ahead then that average might have increased a touch. But the answer as to why the top three haven’t exactly exceeded expectations lies in simple observation and opinion; it might be disagreed with and would surely provoke debate. It is the matter of other teams improving with added resources and actually ‘going for it’. The latter point is an important one. What else could explain Everton’s dramatic comeback over United at the Goodison? 3-1 down after 90, all hope was lost. However, two goals in stoppage time and the Everton faithful were sent onto dreamland.
Take Bolton, for example. Only a couple of points separate them from the Champions League spot and, led by Owen Coyle, they have built a strong and organised team. Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies have worked wonders spearheading the attack – and many similarities could be used to talk about Sunderland. Who would’ve imagined that the Wearsiders would beat Chelsea with such conviction, and yet such ease? West Brom came to Arsenal and did the unforgettable; absolutely destroy them at home in what was the most climactic halves of football you would ever see. Then there was West Ham’s thrashing over United in the Carling Cup; put simply, the intimidating factor is gone.
The top three may be weaker, but does that mean they’re in decline? If you want decline, look at Liverpool. They’ve learnt that the Premier League is no longer a walkover; and that a spot in Europe’s Premier competition is anything but assured. They’ve struggled to replace Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and suddenly they’ve found they’ve found their match with other potential pretenders to the throne. Tottenham and Manchester City have benefited from the extra funds, and from this, they can create bigger squads and challenge for the title.
With the added resources, other clubs can now be a match for anyone with a squad size similar to that of the elite. With greater strength in-depth, they can now challenge for silverware; the League itself is in a four-horse’ race. So is it a case of the top sides being in absolute decline or that other teams have improved? It’s a bit of both.
As ever, the festive month brings about the potentially title-deciding games. It might be a little premature to say this, but neither of the top three can afford to slip up with Man City breathing down their necks. Especially, as all three are playing each other. Chelsea cannot afford to drop more points in the form they’re in; and Arsenal and United have been so inconsistent too. City, in contrast, have an easier fixture list; but that might be me contradicting myself. Easier? After all, as they always say, there are no easy games in the Premier League. For once, that really does ring true.
Having launched in August 2008, many things have been achieved with this blog. This post marks the mother of all achievements, the 500th on ManUtd24. And really, it couldn’t be done without the readers and the contributors whose comments and kind words, and occasionally the opposite, keep this blog afloat. Anyway, thanks all – and here’s to another 500!