Why the 2012-13 Premier League Season Has Been One of the Worst on Record
Manchester United are well on their way to winning the Premier League title. It will be the 20th time the Red Devils will have claimed the ultimate prize in English football and the 13th time since the Premier League began back in 1991.
They will be deserved champions of an incredibly weak league.
Arsenal are in decline.
Liverpool are in decline.
Chelsea are in decline.
The three teams who have challenged Manchester United the most over the last 21 years have moved into parallel periods of regression.
It all adds up to make the worst title race the Premier League has ever seen.
How does the league add up as a whole?
Not well, I'm afraid.
Here, Willie Gannon looks at the main reasons the 2012-13 campaign will not go down in history as one to remember.
The Worst Arsenal Team of the Premier League Era?
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It is now an accepted fact that this current Arsenal team is the worst of the Arsene Wenger era and quite possibly the Premier League era.
Not only is Wenger's team questioned in the regular media, but they are also questioned on pro-Arsenal websites. Just Arsenal ran with a piece in November 2012 with the headline "Is this the worst Arsenal Team in Premier League History?"
The piece went on to state; "This is without doubt the worst Arsenal team that has ever played under the reign of Arsene Wenger," before asking fans "how ashamed do you all feel watching these inadequate players pretending to be Arsenal players?"
Pretty strong words from JustArsenal.com.
The criticism did not end there. The Telegraph, using statistics from Opta, went on to prove that this was the worst start to a season under Wenger.
In 2011, Arsenal legend Frank McLintock told talkSPORT that "this is the worst Arsenal team I have ever seen." Bearing in mind that Robin van Persie has since left the club and not been replaced since then, it would be more than interesting to hear his thoughts on the current team.
There is no smoke without fire, and this current Arsenal team is a shadow of former great sides.
They have severe problems right through the team and only possess two great talents at the moment in Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. After that, the team is of Premier League standard at best with some even below that standard.
They will win nothing for years to come unless the first team receives a major overhaul and signs at least five players.
The Worst Liverpool Team of the Premier League Era?
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Like Arsenal on the previous slide, Liverpool are also a team who are a shadow of their former Premier League selves.
Taken one step further: The Reds are a shadow of a shadow.
Before the Premier League era kicked off in 1992, Liverpool dominated English football for almost 20 years. They were a force in Europe and at domestic level and set new standards in how the game should and could be played.
Since 1991, Liverpool have tried out numerous managers and systems. They have changed to such an extent that the first team has been built up and down more times than the grand old Duke of York.
Saying that Brendan Rodgers' side are the worst Liverpool team in the Premier League era might be a little harsh. They are, however, nothing more than an average team with two class players in Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.
The Reds have little more going for them other than the honesty of endeavour and at times that hasn't even shown this season. They are wracked with inconsistency, having won 12 and lost nine this term, and will do nothing in the league until that is rectified.
To be considered a title-winning side, Liverpool need to sign at least three defenders, three midfielders and quite possibly another striker of high quality.
The Worst Chelsea Team in a Decade?
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In 2005, under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea were unstoppable. The Blues swept all aside as they won the Premier League title for the first time.
They won the title with the incredibly strong spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Didier Drogba.
Roll on to 2013 and Cech, Terry and Lampard are still there albeit aged an extra eight years. The players, who have replaced Carvalho, Makelele and Drogba, David Luiz, Ramires and Fernando Torres respectively, are all lesser players than the 2005 vintage.
To go one step further, Chelsea's win record of 51 percent in 2012-13 is their lowest win rate since 2000-01 when they finished sixth with a win rate of 47 percent.
The Best Tottenham Team in 20 Years?
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As the Premier League flattens out and the best teams creep back towards the pack, some well-run clubs like Tottenham Hotspur have bridged the gap.
Since Daniel Levy took over as chairman of Spurs in 2001, they have improved in fractions every single season. Now, under the stewardship of ex-Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs look like they are set to challenge and break into the top four on a regular basis.
In 1993, Tottenham Hotspur finished in eighth position on 59 points after 42 games. Manchester United won the title with 84 points.
In 2013, Spurs have 54 points after 30 matches and sit in a shaky fourth while United sit atop the pile with 74 points after 29 games.
Between 1993 and 2001, (h/t tottenhamhotspur-mad.co.uk) Spurs only finished in the top half of the Premier League table four times. Since 2001, they have finished outside the top half only once and have only finished outside the top five twice in the last eight seasons.
The reason for Spurs' rise as a Premier League power is down to a skilfully run operation off the pitch where the balance of the team has been addressed. Spurs have always had top players like Sol Campbell, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham and, most recently, Gareth Bale.
What they have not had is a balanced side where the most skilful players are given a foundation to perform. This is Alex Ferguson's secret, he knows how to mix the rough with the smooth, how to mix average workhorses with thoroughbreds.
Spurs have started doing it slowly and have taken advantage of the big four resting on their laurels.
Even with Spurs being at their best for 20 years they are still nowhere near being considered title challengers.
This gives further credence to the top four's regression.
The Middle Ground
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The above table shows the Premier League from eighth to 14th with 11 points separating the seven mid-table teams. Closer inspection will show you that the top and bottom is only separated by two losses.
West Brom on 44 points, and having such a stellar season, have only lost three less games than Newcastle, who are having a terrible season.
In truth, these teams are consistently inconsistent. West Brom have won about as many games as they have lost. As have Swansea and Fulham. Newcastle and West Ham have lost about as many games as they have won and drawn put together.
In short, these teams have a less than 50 percent chance of winning a match.
West Brom have won 43 percent of their matches this season. Newcastle, Fulham and West Ham have all won 31 percent of their matches. High-flying and so well regarded, Swansea have won just 33 percent of their games. Whilst Stoke and Norwich have won an abysmal 23 percent of their matches.
In another year West Ham would be where West Brom are and vice versa.
They are Premier League teams who are nothing more than fodder to the better sides.
If they are in decline what does that say about these teams?
The Relegation Battle
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Survival Sunday makes for great TV, but it does not make for great football.
Let us be honest here, the relegation zone is full of terrible football teams. There is no such thing as a team being "too good to go down."
Over the Premier League era we have witnessed some of the worst teams ever seen in English football.
In general, there are four to six teams involved in the relegation zone.
This season has seen the usual total of six teams involved.
Like I said before, we don't expect top quality in the relegation zone, but we do expect some sort of footballing quality.
Manchester City's Limp Title Defence
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Manchester City have not played well this season. Despite being second for most of the season, the Citizens have flattered to deceive.
The reason for this malaise falls at the feet of just one man—Roberto Mancini.
Credit where it is due, last season Mancini did fantastically well to guide City to their first league title in 44 years.
On the way to that elusive title, they played with the imagination, fearlessness and honesty that we associate with all great champions, and they deservedly won the league.
This season, something changed.
The same panache and vigour is no longer evident. City seem to be a team playing with the weight of the world on their shoulders, and their lacklustre performances are direct and irrefutable evidence.
Team and player performance has dropped from the levels expected, and for this, the buck stops with the manager.
These stats from EPLIndex.com clearly show that Manchester City's game has fallen in every important sector from last season.
EPL Index Stats
Def Zone Passing
Atk Zone Passing
Shots on Target
Clear Cut Conversion
Points Per Game
The main reasons for this retrograde step are Mancini getting his tactics wrong and consistently choosing different systems, which unsettles players. He has become embroiled in off-field arguments with management and has signed the wrong players.
All in all, not even mentioning their abysmal turn in the Champions League, City have been poor this year.
Manchester United of 2012-13: The Worst Premier League Champions Ever?
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OK, so Manchester United may not have won the Premier League title just yet.
They will, though. For all intents and purposes the title race is over. For the purpose of this article, let us say that they have won the league we still expect them to.
Now that we have established that, we can establish that this current Manchester United team are no great shakes.
To their credit they can only beat what is put out in front of them. Sir Alex Ferguson can only look after Manchester United, and the fact that Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are in periods of decline is not his fault.
Manchester United deserve to win the Premier League title because they are the best team the league has to offer.
They may not be the typical champions we want, but they are the champions we and the league deserve.
They are no Arsenal 1998, 2002 or 2004; they are no Manchester United of 1999, 2000, 2001 or even 2009; and they are no Chelsea of 2005 or 2010. Each of the teams named in the preceding sentence set new standards in English football.
This 2013 Manchester United team have set no standards because they did not have to.
David De Gea is an above average goalkeeper, no more and no less. In time he may grow into being a top-class 'keeper like Peter Schmeichel, David Seaman or Petr Cech. At the moment, though, he is nowhere near.
Their defence is decidedly average too.
Rafael may be the most improved player and defender at Old Trafford this season, but he does not compare with the likes of Gary Neville, Denis Irwin, Ashley Cole or even Paul Parker who was quite superb in 1993-94.
Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand are average defenders at best. Nemanja Vidic has endured an injury-hit couple of seasons and on his day he is a class act. However, he has not shown enough of that quality this season.
Patrice Evra has been good this season but has been in decline since the heights of 2009 when he was named in the PFA, UEFA and FIFA team's of the season.
Across midfield the Red Devils have, quite possibly, the worst midfield since Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95.
Michael Carrick is not a great player. He is little more than a good player despite winning the Premier League title in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and soon to be 2013. The fact that he will soon have five titles to his name is testament to him as a professional, but that does not take away from the fact he is good at best. He would get nowhere near any of the teams mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
Tom Cleverley is a lesser player than Carrick, but is more mobile. Anderson is a lesser player than Cleverley.
And Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are finished at the highest level despite Giggs' recent great performance against Real Madrid. In truth they do not compare favourably with their own great former glories and the players who inspired title wins in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 or 2003.
To United's credit, they are a different force going forward than at the back.
Wayne Rooney is a supreme talent who has the potential to match Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi if not on the same level of consistency. Robin van Persie is an incredible player and his goalscoring record in recent seasons compares favourably against the very best. Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy come to mind when thinking of great strikers of the past.
Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia are probably the best group of wide players in the Premier League and can destroy any team on their day. They are, however, no Giggs, Lee Sharpe and Andrei Kanchelskis circa 1994 or even Giggs and David Beckham circa 1999. Be that as it is, they are still good players bar Nani whose game has the ability to be exceptional in the first half and sheer excrement in the second.
What Manchester United do have over other teams of yesteryear is a squad with no less-than-average players.
The weakest players would command places in previous squads because Sir Alex Ferguson has consistency drummed into them. They never give less than 100 percent, and if they do they are dropped unceremoniously.
Every United player lives and breathes by the Scot's credo of "self-sacrifice before self-indulgence."
In that respect, Manchester United deserve huge credit for being better than the sum of their parts.
It does not make them a great team, though, no matter how many points they win the Premier League by.
Statistics provided by www.whoscored.com, www.soccerbase.com and www.premierleague.com.
Agree or Disagree, You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon