The English Premier League likes to promote itself as the most exciting league in world. What it may lack in technical quality, it makes up for with testosterone-fueled abandon. However, it has often been the case that the actual title run-in has fallen short in the entertainment stakes.
Manchester United’s famous collapse in 2012, which handed City a title in the last minute of injury time, was a marketing man’s dream come true.
Fast-forward one year, though, and United completed a comfortable procession toward title glory with an 11-point margin—hardly the sort of stuff to get the pulses racing.
This season, we appear to have the rare sight of a four-horse race to the finish. Without a doubt, the most unusual aspect of this is the absence of the side that has been the major force throughout the Premier League years.
Barring a few seasons where Arsenal and Chelsea shared the league titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005, the race for the title has always involved United finishing first or second. It has almost been a simple case of Manchester United and one other side contesting the league.
United’s amazing consistency won them the league last year, but it was not exciting. Widely proclaimed to be the weakest United side in years, the competition fell apart just after Christmas and the red steamroller just kept on going.
This season, of course, has seen David Moyes presiding over a squad that looks like they haven’t played together before. Team selection, tactics and togetherness have all been questioned as United have laboured to their current position of seventh place after 26 games.
With four sides still vying for the league this year, it begs the question: Has Manchester United’s current plight helped create a Premier League season to be excited about?
Look back to last season at the same point. After 26 games, United had 65 points. This season’s current leaders are Chelsea, who are only on 57 points.
Manchester City have been rightly lauded for many of their performances this season, but again their travel sickness has caused them problems. They currently only have one more point than they had at the same stage last year.
Big improvements have of course been made by both Arsenal and Liverpool. Both have been playing sparkling football at times and matched Chelsea and City stride for stride so far. They are respectively 12 and 17 points better off this February than last.
Just four points, then, separate the current top four sides.
Can we really ignore the fact that, had United shown the same consistency and form as last season, each of these four would be still well short of challenging?
The numbers suggest that the top four have not progressed too much—it is just that Manchester United's standards have fallen so far. Moyes must find out the reasons why and rectify them for next season as a repeat would be unthinkable.
United’s malaise might just be providing entertainment for football fans in more ways than just schadenfreude.
The catastrophic start to Moyes’ tenure at Old Trafford has handed an opportunity to the current top four. While there might not be a “squeaky-bum time" in store for fans of the Red Devils this spring, it does look likely to be the most exciting finish in years.
Both the winners and the Premier League can thank United later.