Monday, September 30, 2013

The title race looks wide open

Fans of ManU, Chelsea and Man City are having their predictions of a three horse race proven correct yet again, the only slight issue being the three horses involved right now don't belong to them.

Funnies aside, this promises to be the most open Premiership in years with the lack of a clearly dominant team.Whilst it's unlikely that the current table will reflect the finishing positions, there has clearly been a shift in balance in the league starting with a dreadful start from the champions, United.

There was always going to be a 'blip' but it beginning to look like much more than that. Many people stated last year that it was far from a vintage Reds team despite the runaway league win and it is now looking to be a correct call.

People will point to Moyes as being the biggest factor and it is true that his tactics and outlook have appeared as if he is still at Goodison. Everton however were usually hard to beat whereas City could have run up a cricket score against United last week if they had really wanted to.

Of their core players, only Rooney and Van Persie are in their prime.Vidic, Ferdinand and Giggs are all past their best with Giggs already looking his full 40 years and entirely ineffective at the top level. Carrick and Fellaini are not hugely mobile either and with Evra also on the wane, the Reds look very susceptible against pace and movement.

This coupled with Moyes' conservative tactics and United have begun to look like a very ordinary team with only a smattering of top quality. Other players such as Nani and Young continue to flatter to deceive and are obviously inferior to the comparable players at the other top clubs.

Following on in last year's finishing order. City probably look to have the best team and the best squad in depth but they appear to be suffering from slight schizophrenia in away matches right now. Pellegrini should however steadily put things right and they will be dominant at home.

Should their CL excursions go better this season, they will have to contend with juggling European football and the league, it is not the easiest thing to master and may prove a distraction for them.

They do however have a wonderful squad with firepower to spare and should they get some momentum, then a more harmonious dressing room should see them go very close this season.

Jose Mourinho is not having things all his own way since his return with a squad big on quality and numbers but hopelessly unbalanced, lacking both holding midfielders and with a misfiring strike force.

Chelsea have endured a nightmare start to their CL campaign with a home loss to Basel. Another drop into the Europa league and the Thurs/Sun issue would be hugely disruptive again. Their form needs to pick up quickly in both competitions.

The biggest issue right now however is that the squad doesn't seem to fit with Mourinho's tactics. His most successful sides had his identity stamped all over them and this one looks far from a 'Mourinho team' right now. Many (including me) had them as favourites from the outset but they face a hard season if they wish to truly challenge for the title. Like City however, they will improve.

One must assume that Arsene Wenger is in full 'I told you so' mode right now and sitting top of the table he may have the right to do so. The fact remains however that Arsenal have not challenged for the title in an age and have done little or nothing to address the fact their squad is the most threadbare of the anticipated top six.

Mesut Ozil was a wonderful buy but possibly a player they needed the least given the urgent need in other areas. Ozil has typically struggled to finish matches for Real and with Wilshire and Walcott both horribly fragile, keeping this level of performance up for an entire season may be tough. Ramsey will not continue scoring a goal a game either.

What must however gall Gunners fans the most is the 'what if' Wenger had actually strengthened the team as required in addition to buying Ozil? With the league so open this season and new managers in place in last year's top 3, the addition of 2-3 quality players could have seen Arsenal as strong title contenders.

Top 4 finishes are all well and good but Arsenal fans are crying out for a trophy and the Premiership is the one they want.Wenger again didn't address the main squad deficiencies and may yet again be the one receiving the 'I told you so' come season end. There was and is a huge opportunity this season.

Spurs fans will be on cloud nine. Having endured the disappointment of missing out on the CL yet again last season and then the departure of Gareth Bale, an excellent start to the season and a strong squad has them all dreamy eyed.

Spurs have certainly progressed under AVB and the team appears to be gelling after their poor display against Arsenal. Against Chelsea on Saturday they were certainly more than capable of competing physically, something they have struggled with in the past.

Whilst Spurs have added numbers however and developed a great squad, their first eleven now lacks Bales' match winning quality. Whilst they have bought in numbers, possibly buying the very best rather than sheer quantity (buying Ozil instead of Eriksen and Lamela together as an entirely hypothetical example) could have seen them really challenge at the top. Defensively they appear to lack a little against the very best also.

Whilst a title tilt is probably a step too far for a club that finished 5th last season (Thurs/Sun football will prove a hindrance again) CL football at the least could be a reality for them next season. The White Hart Lane faithful will however dare to dream.

Like Spurs, Liverpool appear to be heading in the right direction and have had an excellent start to the season with only a home aberration against Southampton to spoil things. Rogers' tactics and philosophy are slowly being indoctrinated into the team and Luis Suarez looks go be back with a bang.

Liverpool have genuine hope of making progress this season although the competition is fierce. Again like Spurs, Liverpool must be wondering what might have transpired had they aimed a little higher in the transfer market. It is of course difficult if you cannot offer CL football and they both probably bought as well as they could have.

Liverpool have no European distractions this season and already being out of the League Cup, they have the opportunity to keep their squad fresh and rested.

Nearly all managers rubbish the January transfer window but if United's form doesn't pick up, Chelsea's strikers don't improve and Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal all still hold any kind of title hope come the new year, then we could see a January window like no other.

On balance, we'd still lean towards a title race between the twin blues of City and Chelsea. Arsenal will harbour true title aspirations (as may Spurs) also after their excellent start. It will almost certainly require a lower points total this season with the victor possibly losing as many as 7 or 8 games - United have already lost 3 times and City twice.

Liverpool and Spurs however can have realistic hopes of breaking down the door of the top 4, the most pertinent point being though that it is the champions who look the most vulnerable right now. There's a long way to go however - No Nonsense.