EPL Title Race: Two Old Rivals Circle As the Upstart Stands Between
In this remarkable English Premier League season, Chelsea had apparently "won the league" a couple of months ago when they sat proud on top of the table having crushed and thoroughly vanquished all opposition placed before them. They now sit in fifth place, nine points behind the leaders who have a game in hand.
The top three consists of two old and well acquainted opponents in the title battle and one new party that seems almost unstoppable, the financially consumed nature of the game enabling it a chance to be a juggernaut, an invincible force that will eventually prevail. Manchester United lead, two points clear with two games in hand on second placed Manchester City and Arsenal sit in third, with a game in hand on City, and having played one more than United.
The interesting thing is that for the new power it is early days, and the old foes have showed a bit of good old fashioned fight to hold onto the places in the upper reaches of the table, places they consider to be unquestionably theirs.
Right now as the weekend fixtures grow ever nearer, it is a three-horse race for the title.
Tottenham are off the pace by a considerable amount, eight points behind the leaders in fact and Chelsea are behind them.
This season however, has proved already to be as difficult to call as the face on a headless coin.
For if Chelsea can experience such a severe downturn in results, can not the team that currently lead also experience such upheaval? There are those who would insist that there is no chance of this, but to say there is no chance of Manchester United suffering some sort of major downturn in form is naive in the extreme.
Alex Ferguson's side has been seen as beatable on enough occasions this season for those who sit below them to look upon the game they face with them as a chance at three points. That seems now to be a major difference with this season than past versions. No real aura of invincibility has been seen, though surprisingly enough, Manchester United currently sit invincible at the summit of the English game.
United have been extremely lucky and there are even those who make wild accusations of complicit behavior by officials, which is the nature of the sore loser. United fans probably cried the same foul of conspiracy as Liverpool ruled England in the years leading up to the premier league. United have had decisions go the other way and it is probable that every team in the league has had an incorrect ruling in their favor. The officials are human after all.
Ferguson's team does though look as if they are rumbling toward some good form, and has demonstrated this season that it is quite capable of taking sides to pieces. Its vulnerability has been seen though, and it has opened the idea for teams that may have in the past just defended to have a bit of a go. A fit United could now stroll to the title though, which is decidedly ominous for fans of the other sides.
Across the league in general, a quite marvelous development has been the re-implementation of a more attacking style in the desire to actually score more goals than the opponent. More and more teams are attempting to play a more open style with attack at the forefront again.
The league has seen a spread of talent finally, as the bigger spending clubs, bar one rather obvious exception, have had to rein in expenditure to deal with tighter financial times.
This has meant certain players that would have perhaps gone to certain clubs in more financially plentiful times, have not. Also affecting the mix is the World Cup hangover, where players who lost form at the Cup have still not fully recovered. Another thing is that all of the teams are quite simply put, getting better. Players, managers and staff have contributed in the development of the competition as an entity, all creating their own form of football momentum in what they do for the game.
Momentum at present seems to be with United. They sit atop the chart and have games in hand on their nearest rivals.
A look at their rivals will prove that it is far from over.
Firstly, as they are second, Manchester City.
Roberto Mancini's team has patiently clawed their way up, still experiencing the myriad problems a new squad deal with as it tries to find its true and most devastating cohesion. The Blues at this stage appear competent and have successfully muscled their way into second, through several fighting performances. They have also to be fair, produced some absolutely splendid football, the demolition of Fulham in London being an excellent example of the capabilities of this group of players. They seem in the process of clicking and with a tweak here and there they may become that which all other fans fear, the financially incontestable super team.
It does appear to be happening, this formation of a team that will rule Europe, though there is one ray of hope. Frequently, the richest teams fail as they flail about throwing money everywhere in an attempt to buy success that takes stability and commitment to achieve. With Mancini at the helm though, they seem at this stage to have the right man for the job. They have acquitted themselves better than their opponents at this stage, though they have actually played a game more than those teams who sit directly behind them.
This leads to the idea that they are almost a false second, because they have played more games and therefore had more access to points. In a way with the game in hand that their closest rivals have, they are in a quite precarious position, one more loss and they could slip back down the table and not recover, simply because the other teams will not drop points. This is the nature of a league format, and why it is enjoyed and observed by so many.
Arsenal is third, but have that game in hand, which if won, would put them a point ahead of City. They have, despite their midweek loss to Ipswich in the League Cup, been in good form and have played some excellent football, especially in breaking Chelsea's dominance in a fast paced show at the Emirates that was won by the team that finally actually believed they could win, rather than slumping to defeat as they had done in the past.
Who will take the coveted EPL trophy?
Wenger has persisted with his sensible business approach and kept Arsenal a relatively competitive team, all the while trying to minimize costs and maximize football. This could be said to be perhaps one of the best approaches to the game, and one that UEFA plan to try and make the norm, rather than the spending spree mentality that goes on at present.
Arsenal also seems to be finding a greater and more effectively cohesive dynamism that is spurring their play to new levels. Arsene Wenger has put an excellent side together again, it remains to be seen whether they can deliver, the center back issue is big, but across the squad they have an excellent team that is capable of trophy winning football.
Entering the second half of the season proper, it is now that the wheat is sorted from the chaff. The coming weeks will reveal the true nature of these footballing sides, as they play to win the league, and leave their opponents, all and sundry, at the wayside.
With Spurs and Chelsea lurking ominously below, Harry Redknapp's side playing the most entertaining football in Europe at times, and Carlo Ancellotti's Chelsea having already delivered some of the same at points this season, you could never really even say that the top three are decided, let alone first.
The title race is on, and due to the quirky nature of the results that has led to this point, it looks to be an interesting run in, with several teams in the race for the title itself. Fasten your seatbelt and prepare to crash out the window in your neighbors hastily assemble stunt catapult, it could be a bumpy ride.
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