Prior to the start of the current Premier League season, many would have predicted the usual suspects of Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, who would presumably challenge each other for the title. Some supporters may feel that after a busy summer, Manchester United may also throw their hat into the ring. However, as Chelsea struggle to recapture last season’s form, we must ask whether this prevalent side really is approximately 12 points worse than this time last year? It’s not easy to make predictions when teams have games in hand, but this season promises to be the tightest, most unpredictable season yet.
Note that in the 1997/98 season, which finished 13 days before my birth, Newcastle United were, at one point, certain to win the title, having been more than 10 points clear between the February/March boundary. However, their campaign came to a disappointing end, handing 1st place to none other than Manchester United, who were actually having their worst Premier League season yet under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The fact is no team in Chelsea’s position at this stage of the season has ever finished higher than 7th - resulting in neither Champions League or Europa League football next season. Even the “Special One”, Jose Mourinho, was unable to guarantee the West London club’s success before his sacking, just as current Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, found out at Borussia Dortmund in the 2014/15 season, during which he felt his wonders in previous seasons would no longer work.
Chelsea are the commonly regarded more recently as the mentally weakest team in the Premier League. The worst start to a season from a title-defending side to grace this post-1992 version of the 200-year-old league. No team has dropped more points from winning positions this season than Chelsea, who have thrown away 4 leads already by mid-November. Even Manchester United’s poor 2013/14 season was better at this stage of the season than Chelsea’s is presently. Only Blackburn Rovers’ title defence in 1995 can be considered anywhere near the level at which this Chelsea side are now.
At the other end of the spectrum, Manchester United, nowhere close to the team they once were, with the likes of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney at their prime, are somehow only 2 points from the top of the Premier League table. Even though the matches below the quality of Manchester City and Arsenal are perhaps dull at best this season, they are still a huge amount of fun to watch, especially for the neutral supporter. Whoever would have thought that post-1992, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Swansea City would genuinely be the top 4 contenders in 2016? Or at the end of the 2014/15 season, Chelsea would be possible relegation candidates (we will have to see…) midway through the season? No one. Would many have predicted that the invincible Manchester City could be taken to the cleaners by Tottenham after sitting pretty much at the top of the table after several games? Too often, perhaps, we forget how competitive this English football league is in the modern era.
The footballing environment is changing and the Premier League is at a new level, compared to a decade or more ago. In my view, this entertainment will always beat the boring Bayern Munich-dominated Bundesliga and the Catalan Madrid-governed La Liga. Unpredictability is in the very nature of the Premier League, and the fall of the Giants is a perfect example of the league’s finesse.
Original image by Robert Barrow