Arguably the best league in the world, the Premier League is constantly growing, improving and above all, changing. Whether it's players, managers or tactics, England's top flight is always changing—for better, worse or neither.
Here, I'll discuss what changes the Premier League has seen in 2012 on a larger scale: the changes in playing styles, types of players and the league in general rather than specific players or teams.
The Decline of the Defense
Slowly but surely, the days of successful teams built on stingy defenses are ending. Top-class defenders seem to be forgetting how to defend: Thomas Vermaelen looked like a shadow of his 2009-10 self earlier this season, Nemanja Vidic hasn't looked solid since returning from injury and even Vincent Kompany, the man so crucial to Manchester City's title victory, has been having a disappointing campaign thus far.
Think that's not enough? Going back to the 2006-07 season, title-winners Manchester United conceded just 27 goals. United then won the next two titles—conceding just 22 and 24 goals, respectively—before Chelsea won the 2009-10 title, conceding 32. United won the title the following year, conceding 37 goals, and Manchester City won the title last season with 29 goals conceded.
Bar Manchester United's 2010-11 campaign (which was the least convincing title-winning campaign in recent memory), all of those numbers are relatively low. Compare them to this season, where first place United (surprise, surprise) have already conceded 28 goals in 21 games, and you see that something is clearly going on here.
The only team that comes to mind when I think of stingy defenses currently in the Premier League are Stoke City, who also happen to be in 10th place and play the ugliest football in the top tier.
The point is that watertight defenses seem to be a thing of the past, as even the best defenses on paper seem to struggle on the pitch.
Lack of Competition in the Title Race
Not only is this season's title race once again a two-horse race between the Manchester clubs, but Manchester United already have a seven-point gap at the top of the table—and don't look like giving it up anytime soon.
The only thing worse than a two-horse race is a one-horse race, because then you don't really have a race at all. Analogies aside, if Manchester United keep playing the way they have been and Manchester City continue to put in lackluster displays, this title race could be over by April.
If the Premier League truly wants to be the best in the world, there has to be more than two title competitors. After all, don't Premier League advocates criticize La Liga for being a two horse race?
Hopefully the future will see three or even four candidates battling it out right down to the wire, like it used to be.
Rise of the Surprise Packages
When Newcastle had a purple patch of form at the start of last season, most people just expected them to fizzle out sooner or later, as is the case with most teams that start the season hot. Somehow, Alan Pardew's side kept it up throughout the grueling 38-game Premier League season, grabbing a shocking fifth-place finish above the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton.
This season, of course, things haven't gone nearly as well for Newcastle as they've clearly suffered a little something called second-season syndrome, currently languishing in 15th place with just five wins from 21 games. Things probably won't get much better either, as they've just sold their top scorer in Demba Ba to Chelsea.
But with the fall of Newcastle came the rise of...West Bromwich? They're not quite as good as Newcastle were last season and are clearly starting to slip up a bit. That doesn't take away from the fact that West Brom have had a fantastic campaign so far, currently in seventh place but just five points off the top four, and have no doubt been the surprise package of the season.
Everton, currently fifth place, have also been somewhat of a surprise package, although they finished seventh last season while West Brom finished 10th.
For one reason or another, there have been more significantly overachieving teams this season and last season than there were in previous seasons. Everyone loves seeing the so called "smaller clubs" do well, so this is a trend we'd like to see continue in the coming years.
More Attractive Football
It's a pleasure to say that after 2012, significantly more teams play attractive football than before.
When I say attractive football, I mean free-flowing, attacking football played on the ground—the epitome of it is Barcelona, the antithesis is Stoke City.
Arsenal were just about the only Premier League team who were fully committed to this philosophy before 2012—maybe Roberto Martinez's Wigan, too, although you'd expect them to score more goals if they're playing attacking football.
Swansea City have been a revelation the past year, promoted from the Championship last season and committed to playing pretty football, passing the ball around nicely in that Barcelona/Arsenal mold.
Manchester City have been playing good football as well, thanks to plenty attacking-minded signings with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, David Silva and more. Chelsea played their usual, not-so-attractive style of football for the first half of 2012 (and won the Champions League doing so), but with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses signed in the summer (there were plenty more, though), they've been playing a new attacking style of football with flair this season that we haven't seen from a Chelsea side in years.
Finally, Liverpool have been playing possession-based football this season under former Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers, and although they haven't exactly had a brilliant campaign so far, they certainly look a better side to watch, and things can only get better for them under this new philosophy.
Of course, there were plenty more things that changed in the Premier League in 2012. What changes did you see?