Only seven weeks have passed since its start and the 2010-11 English Premier League is already one of the most interesting of the past several years. “Chelsea is leading by four points so early in the season. How can that be interesting?” some of you may say. While I might give credit to this question, I must also point out several fascinating trends in this year’s campaign.
First of all, look at Liverpool, the greatest British club of all-time. For the first time since 1964, Liverpool is in the relegation zone. Now, if that is not big news, I don’t know what is. On top of that, despite great efforts to finally sell the club, current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are still trying to slow down the deal and prolong the team’s agony. Over the years, Liverpool has amassed more than 200 million British pounds of debt and the new ownership group (led by Red Sox owner John Henry) promise they will make sure all of it is paid back and that coaches have money for big transfers again.
Speaking of new coaches, Roy Hodgson’s spell at Anfield has been rather unimpressive so far. Yes, it is always easiest to blame the manager when things are not going well. Yet, with almost the exact same players, Liverpool was in title contention only two years ago. Thus, even though I am very far from supporting the Reds, it will be a great pity to see one of the greatest clubs of all time get relegated or, even worse, go bankrupt.
Another interesting phenomenon that started last year but is much more apparent now is the breaking up of the dominance of the Big Four, i.e. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Last year it was mainly due to Liverpool’s inconsistency, but now Chelsea is the only team that stands out. Ambitious and trophy-hungry Manchester City is in second place while Tottenham and Aston Villa are only a point behind Arsenal. Of course, this convergence might simply be caused by the big teams’ bad form. After all, United has not won a single away match in the league this season while Arsenal just lost 3–2 to West Brom at the Emirates.
In spite of these facts, I think that this was all caused by the ever-increasing intensity and competitiveness of the Premier League. It has now become so hard to be consistent in that league, both physically and mentally, that most teams must choose between the domestic and the European competitions. For example, Fulham decided to go for European glory last season and reached the final of the Europa League. However, this meant they had to finish 12th in the Premier League because they did not have enough energy to compete successfully in both leagues.
From this point of view, I think it will become increasingly more difficult for English teams to perform successfully in several different competitions in the same year. The pure quality of British soccer means that every team must field its best players every week if they want to win, even against small clubs fighting for survival. I would even claim that with the exception of the top two clubs in each of the other major European leagues, any other team on the continent would be struggling in the Premier League.
Finally, I wrote above that Chelsea is the only team that stands out at the moment, and it is also the only one that can contradict my claim that no British team can compete successfully at home and abroad. Chelsea is by far the most physically fit team in Europe; Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Nicolas Anelka and John Obi Mikel are all players that I have never seen show any kind of fatigue or exhaustion. Moreover, they have formed a very formidable side under Carlo Ancelotti; a simple glance at their results so far is enough to convince anybody: 6–0 versus Wigan, 6–0 against West Brom, 4–0 against Blackpool. The list goes on and on.
Yet, I have to say that the Blues started their last campaign in a similar fashion. Then, at some point, they started slipping up and lost points against seemingly weaker opponents. In the end, they won the Premier League by a single point and lost to Inter so early as the quarterfinals of the difficult Champions League. Clearly, one must always be cautious about making any long-term predictions of Chelsea’s performance.
All in all, this year’s EPL is one of the most fascinating league campaigns I have ever watched. Tons of goals, very fast and physical play and a lot of surprises have contributed to a most exciting competition that no one should miss!