EPL: Lessons from an Unfinished Football Season

Christopher HemphillContributor IApril 3, 2008

As the end of the international club season nears its conclusion, I find myself beginning to look back and take stock of the season we've just experienced. 

What lessons are we to learn from the triumphs, collapses and comebacks of this season. 

While the list is still unfinished, as the competitions themselves still have much action to deliver, there are two lessons which have already distinguished themselves in the madness this year: 


Lesson No. 1: The English Premier League is the best league in the world

No doubt there has been debate in recent years as to which league is tops in the world.  

Spain, Italy and England, among others, have made claims to housing the greatest teams in the world, and rightly so. But this year, I don't think there can be much debate about the supremacy of the EPL.  

Half of the teams remaining in the Champions League are English, and two of them stand poised to advance to the semi-finals (this allows for the fact that Fenerbahce may pull off the upset of Chelsea, though it remains a daunting task). 

But more than just having great teams at the top, the Premiership is strong top to bottom (well, maybe not the very bottom). 

Every week brings a match which warrants a team's full focus, even a match between leaders Manchester United and lowly Derby County: United barely edged out a 1-0 win. 

In recent weeks, there's been a serious jostle at the top of the table, with United finally emerging as the leader. 

But the title is anything but assured, with Chelsea and Arsenal following closely behind, and the final weeks will serve up some exciting soccer as this league reaches its climax. 

Granted many leagues will have close races down to the end. But this race features three Champions League quarter finalists, and quite possibly semi finalists as well. 

No other league comes close to being able to match that claim, nor the level of football being exhibited by this league this season.

Lesson No. 2: No matter how strong a lead seems, teams cannot afford to ease up. 

This lesson, no doubt, has been proven in many seasons before. 

Of course, we can all conjure images of AC Milan's collapse in the 2005, Champions League Final against Liverpool. (For those of you who don't know, Milan was up 3-0 at half time, only to see their lead disappear in the second half. Liverpool went on to win the title on penalties.) 

But the turnover at the top of the English Premier League this season lends serious credence to this lesson. 

At one point, Arsenal appeared ready to survive the stretch and hold off the mounting charge of Manchester United. 

At one point, Chelsea seemed in disarray after the sudden departure of their coach Jose Mourinho, falling several points off the pace, and doing so in ugly fashion. 

At one point, though it seems quite long ago now, Liverpool looked prepared to run away with the Premier League, before Rafa began to shuffle his line-up repeatedly, and the team lost their chemistry.

Now here we are: Manchester United leading the way, a solid five points ahead of second place and playing some of their best football of the season (not to mention they have this season's Mr. Wonderful in Cristiano Ronaldo). 

Chelsea has come back from no-man's-land, finding themselves in second place after coming from behind to beat Arsenal (starting to see a trend here?). 

Liverpool, the Humpty Dumpty of the year, has finally put themselves back together again (Rafa finally settling on a formation and line-up), though it seems too late for them to make a serious run at the title. 

Arsenal, who at one point looked untouchable, now finds itself in third place, six points back of Manchester United, struggling to find the flowing football which vaulted them to the top.

But don't get comfortable.  Based on results so far, God only knows what the last few weeks of the EPL season will hold. 

Arsenal still has a shot at United, though they must travel to Old Trafford in search of vital points. And they must play Liverpool again in the League (in the middle of playing them twice in the Champions League).

Chelsea also has their shot at United, as the Red Devils must travel to Stamford Bridge, a venue where Chelsea has not lost in 78 matches. 

United seem to have the toughest road left, with aforementioned games against Arsenal and Chelsea, and tough matches with Blackburn and West Ham—both teams in the top half of the table.

Lesson No. 3: Do NOT try to figure out how the season will finish. 

I find myself growing quite excited when I think about the matches that will be played in the weeks to come. 

The Champions League always has excitement and drama, and this year is no exception. 

The prospect of having three English teams in the semi finals may seem dull to some, but I think it adds a level of spark and passion to games already full of both. 

The Premier League finish promises to be one of the best in recent years, or at least one of the closest. Three teams realistically have a shot at the title, and these teams will be trading punches with each other in the closing weeks. 

If there is one thing I've learned from all this, it's that I shouldn't try to figure it out.  There is no predictability in football, at least none on which I can pick up, so I will most likely just end up being wrong. 

And I might miss some excellent football in the meantime. So strap yourselves in for the ride, sports fans, this one's going down to the wire.

And I suspect there are more lessons which football has yet to teach us this year.


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