As the dust settled in the aftermath of yet another exciting and unpredictable weekend of Premier League football, a stark reality slowly came into picture as we head into the last irritating and meaningless international break of the calendar year.
“The pace set is very very high [at the top of the league]” conceded Wenger. If last season was anything to go by, this season the title was bound to contested by a strengthened Arsenal and unpredictable Liverpool along with Chelsea and Manchester City. Chelsea are on course for a unprecedented 100 points, Wenger noted.
What exactly has happened to the contenders?
Liverpool, who finished 2nd last year, lost the title only at the closing stages of the season. They lost Suarez and strengthened the squad with young players and Mario Balotelli. Whether they will be able to continue their form was always going to be unpredictable. When a striker of such calibre leaves, the team is unable to compensate. Suddenly, the same things that the team used to do doesn’t result in goals any more. Every goal they concede, doesn’t remain irrelevant. Liverpool face a big fight to finish in top 4 this season.
Arsenal, on the other hand, strengthened their squad with Alexis Sanchez, who immediately improved their first team. Wenger was also able to get Danny Welbeck for which the credit goes only to Olivier Giroud. One can’t help but wonder had Giroud got injured, a minute after the window had closed, the Arsenal supporters would have been left with their heads in the hands. Wenger did try to get a defender though but was unable to. The defensive midfield position was overlooked and they are paying the price for it.
Manchester United were not realistic contenders this year keeping in mind the changes taking place at Old Trafford.
Liverpool were facing the prospect of falling 15 points behind Chelsea and the pressure was telling. Rodgers chose to throw in the towel at Madrid to rest key players and yet Chelsea had an air of invincibility at Anfield despite having only 48 hours of rest. Even when footballing Gods chose to smile over Liverpool’s Can as he saw his deflected strike bundle into the net, not even a single Chelsea head dropped. The body language was telling as Chelsea seemed unconcerned by the goal they had just conceded. At the touchline, there was no worry or concern betrayed by the expressionless face of Mourinho.
Arsenal, a day later, had a sense of deja vu of the Champions League outing. They took the lead and then conceded it. They are now 12 points behind.
The sad reality is that Liverpool and Arsenal are out of the title race. Southampton are 4 points behind but are going to face Arsenal, United, City, Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea over the next 7-8 matches. Boring, boring Chelsea, taking all the fun out the title race.
The only realistic contenders left in the race are Manchester City even who, thanks to their thrilling draw against the relegation contenders QPR, are now 8 points behind Chelsea.
So is this a one horse race?
An 8 point gap is not enough in the Premier League so early in the season. But you also need to consider who has this 8 point lead and in what manner they have accumulated these points. It is Mourinho’s Chelsea. The manager who is arguably one of the best manager the game has ever seen and who has won titles everywhere he has managed. This is a team which last season suffered only one loss against the top 7 teams [Everton]. They have never looked like losing in any game so far.
So I ask again is this a one horse race? Yes, it is. Chelsea will wrap the the title in December at this rate. They have already visited Old Trafford, Etihad, Anfield and Goodison Park. They will go to Emirates with Wenger still waiting for his first win against Jose.
So what has happened to the most competitive league in the world?
The USP of the Premier League has been the competitiveness and it still is. Any team can beat any team in this league. Case in point Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City this weekend. A top 4 team losing here is normal business not a breaking headline like in La Liga or Bundesliga.
The most important thing for PL (or for any league for that matter) however is not the competitiveness but its representation in the Champions League.
The competitiveness comes later. The English clubs have had disappointing years in the CL for the last 3-4 years bar Chelsea. If you add United to the exclusion list, the period becomes 7 years.
Chelsea running away with Premier League hence will not be a sign of the demise of the Premier league, instead it is going to put a lot of pressure on other big clubs namely United, City and Arsenal to improve. It is going to be an opportunity to chase the perfection.
Just think about La Liga in 2011/2012 season when Mourinho’s Real Madrid had a flawless season and accumulated 100 points on their way to the league title. This was followed up by Barcelona doing the same thing next season 2012-2013. What happened next season was 2 La Liga clubs competing in the CL final. (Atletico Madrid must have certainly improved facing competition from the likes of Madrid and Barca).
The same logic applies here. Chelsea are setting a standard for other top 6 clubs to follow. The message is clear, “Match us and you can be good in Europe”.
Manchester City failed to strengthen their first team effectively last year, perhaps the 2 trophies lulled them to safety. There can’t be any delusions now of not knowing what its going to take to compete with the very best. The more humiliating Mourinho makes the title win for others, the better it will be for the future of Premier League.