When the Barclays Premier League began its 22nd season in August this year, all was, it seemed at the time, in the balance. The first 11 rounds certainly seem to have backed up that notion. Managerial changes for the top 3 meant the door had been opened (even if narrowly) for the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs to show them what this league could become.
A veritable six-horse race ensued and expanded to include the likes of high-flying Southampton and the ever-present Evertonians. And now, we have 4 points separating Liverpool in 2nd and Manchester City in 8th. The most competitive league in the world from top-to-bottom just re-set its own benchmark. This season, in many ways, promises to be a milestone one.
Manchester United, under Alex Ferguson’s heir David Moyes, haven’t been quite the force of last season. Stuttering against West Brom at home and against Liverpool and Manchester City away in quick succession saw them slip far off the pace and at one point they were 11 points off the summit. There was fear among the Old Trafford faithful- that a club so used to being at the pinnacle of British football may now have to fight to get into its top three!
Fortunately, this happened to be the perfect season to have slip-ups. Manchester City’s horrendous away record has seen them pick up a mere 4 points in 6 away games while Chelsea have thrown their hat in the ring for “most unpredictable top 4 team” by consistently following up stupendous performances with damp squibs.
All of this has been played out against the backdrop of a sensational Arsenal start- the best the club has maybe ever seen in the Wenger era! It began all wrong with a shameful 3-1 humbling at home to Villa, but since then the Gunners have not looked back. Buoyed by the signing of one of the world’s best creative mid-fielders in Mesut Ozil, Arsenal are finally looking like a jigsaw with all the pieces in the right places.
Aaron Ramsey is looking like one of the world’s best mid-fielders, and Olivier Giroud like one of the world’s best centre forwards. Consistency seems to have found Arsenal and at the perfect time. Save a blip at the weekend at Old Trafford, the Arsenal train has been rolling along rather smoothly. This actually looks, for the first time in many years, like an Arsenal team that could win the Barclays Premier League!
If, at the start of the season, anyone had told Liverpool that they would be 2 points off the top after 11 games, that person would have been declared either insane or a Liverpool fan. While this writer is not entirely certain there is a difference between the two, even he cannot argue that this would be the perfect time to take that ill-fated plunge and become a Liverpool supporter! Suarez and Sturridge look dangerous in tandem, supported by a back four that has epitomized stability. While it remains a stretch to think they can win the title, their current form has seen them glide along comfortably and, if the others keep slipping up, one can never tell!
With a league-topping 14 points in their last 6 games, Southampton have flown into 3rd place- leap-frogging last season’s top 3 in their entirety. Adam Lallana and Co. have looked inspired, but much of the credit has to go to Mauricio Pochettino. The level of organization and discipline has been matched only by the flair- Adam Lallana’s goal of the week strike a prime example! Where will they finish? Well, only the BPL Gods know. But one would be awfully hard-pressed to think that they would be relegation candidates again. Southampton finish in the top 8 for this writer.
Everton have moved on seamlessly from the David Moyes era- maybe setting a precedent for, ironically, Moyes’ new club Manchester United. Everton had over 70% possession at the weekend against Crystal Palace- a league record this year. That’s an indication of their new approach- keep the ball, build up the play and always look to score goals. One can’t help but admire how Martinez has brought his Wigan influence to the Toffees and, for this writer, Everton finish top 6.
So what’s the verdict, then? Who gets the big prize? Who will win the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League? Hardly an easy question to answer. And the truth is that anyone who answers it today would more likely get it wrong than right.
Manchester United have finally worked up a decent head of steam but the International Break comes at exactly the wrong time. For Arsenal, it couldn’t have come at a better time! The Gunners have had 4 or 5 very pressing fixtures and can finally breathe a little easily and get back to the grind in a fortnight.
Chelsea under Mourinho can never be counted out- but inconsistency is the enemy of efficiency and the Special One no doubt recognizes that! Manchester City need to start showing up away from home and Manuel Pellegrini needs to start showing up at Press Conferences! One can only hope he’s been saving his enthusiasm for the locker room because his Conferences have been painfully placid.
All cards shall doubtless be revealed in May 2014 and then the world shall see where the chips fall! Till then, keeping the old clichés going, just enjoy the ride!