With just over half the season through it is still anybody’s guess as to who will hold aloft the trophy come 22nd May. It’s not all hazy, as we can state with utmost confidence that league title will ultimately reside in Manchester/ London at the end of the season! We at TheHardTackle take a look at this fascinating race to the Premiership pinnacle.
It isn’t without a hint of irony, that Arsene’s dream of winning silverware has not yet materialized in his dream home, The Emirates. The move to the Emirates was supposed to be the harbinger of a new era for the Gunners, but instead it’s continued to be home for the ‘nearly men’ since the Champions League finals in 2006. It’s been a case of perennial transition ever since and full marks to the club, manager and, most of all, the fans for showing the patience that other clubs lack. The times might change with Arsene finally spending and bringing in experience to add to an existing bunch of talented youngsters.
Current Campaign (So Far)
Arsenal’s desperation for silverware was for everyone to see when Arsene put out a strong team against Newcastle in the league cup. The message was pretty loud and clear – Arsenal were now desperate for silverware and the league was high on the priority list. As many would point out, their current campaign could really do wonders with a boost in home form if they are to make a serious push for the title. Having said that, their recent victory against Chelsea at home could be a sign that Arsenal might have turned the corner. Arsenal’s standing (currently in 11th spot) in the fair play table is a testimony to the fact that they aren’t easily bullied anymore and an away thumping of Birmingham is testimony to that.
Though Arsenal may have addressed one of their perennial problems about not being physical/ gritty enough these are some challenges that continue to plague the team –
• Goalkeeper – Ever since the departure of Lehmann, Arsenal have struggled to find a replacement and I dare say the search is still on. Talks of Hugo Lloris/ Schwarzer moving in the summer did not materialize and that meant Almunia and Co continued to be the only options available. Though things could change if Arsene indeed wishes to splash the cash on the likes of Shay Given and Friedel.
• Goals – Arsenal are probably the only other side apart from Spurs that relies on midfield for goals than its strikers. Though Chamakh has added a new dimension to Arsenal he certainly does not come across a prolific (20+) goal scorer. A blip in form for Nasri and Fabregas and one really doesn’t see too many goal threats from elsewhere.
Key Players – Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Arshavin
THT Verdict – Chief Contenders
Living in the shadow of an illustrious counterpart can be very hard. Ask a City Fan. Having been second best in Manchester for most, if not all, of their history, City fans would be hoping that Mancini and his men get them bragging rights over their much bigger neighbours that don the red. If the early season signs are anything to go by this season is the closest they have gotten to their local rivals since their league win in 1968 (when they beat United by 2 pts).
Current Campaign (So Far)
The current campaign for City has been by far the most successful one that the club has had in the last decade – though that alone might not be good enough for the millions that have been pumped in the club. Many pundits have touted City as title contenders but their defensive brand of football against the bigger teams (United, Arsenal and Chelsea) has drawn a lot of criticism considering the attacking prowess they boast. City by far has the squad with most depth in the premiership currently and as football becomes a squad game this aspect could well turn things in their favour.
• Over reliance on Tevez – For all the millions spent by City they still rely too heavily on their captain for goals. The squad may boast the likes of Balotelli and Adebayor but the city fans know too well that their title hopes hang on one man. City’s over reliance on Tevez is evident as he has scored 12 out of the clubs 33 goals and the next best player is Balotelli with 5 goals (thanks to a hat-trick which included 2 penalties!!).
• Defensive tactics – “Champions take chances” is a saying that Mancini has surely missed and it’s been evident every time City has started a big game under him. It’s not a common sight to see 3 defensive midfielders operate in football today but anyone who has watched City under Mancini would say it simply is not worth it. The team was booed of the pitch in their latest stalemate against Arsenal at the Emirates and chants of “Boring, boring city” were not exactly soothing to the ear. If City are to win the league this year their biggest hurdle could be Mancini and his defensive tactics.
Key players – Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Joe Hart
THT Verdict – Odds in Favor
Every club has its golden era and it would be fair to suggest that this is the golden era for Chelsea FC. Having won the league 3 times in the last 6 years and completing a double for the first time in its history by winning the league and the FA Cup in the previous season a lot was expected of Chelsea this time around. The decision to let 5 first team players go without appropriate replacements meant the squad would always be under pressure, especially considering their susceptibility to injuries/ suspensions.
The manner in which Chelsea started the season it looked like the league was more of a formality till the team was struck severely by suspensions and injuries. Many would suggest that Chelsea were rather naïve to let five first team regulars leave but others would think that it was time that the highly famed academy started bearing some fruit. The initial signs did seem positive but for most of Chelsea’s kids, the shoes left to fill, were just too big.
• Competitiveness – Anyone who has seen Chelsea in action would tell you that there seems to be a casual spirit amongst some of the players in the starting lineup. A lot of this could be down to the lack of competition for places with the likes of Deco, Ballack and Carvalho departing.
• Ageing squad and injuries – It’s no secret that the current Chelsea squad is ageing by the day and that age has been on show against the likes of younger squads like City and Spurs. The youngsters have shown promise and showcased their talent but the manager’s reluctance to play them when opportunity arises – games against Sunderland and Marseille – could mean a lengthy transition period for Chelsea.
• Where’s the money? – Chelsea’s biggest challenge could be its cost cutting initiatives which seems to have had a significant impact in the club’s transfer ambitions. Self-sufficiency is a long-term goal but what the team currently needs is an injection of some world-class players. The last big signing that could be tagged as marquee was back in 2007 when Florent Malouda moved from Lyon. The general belief is that in the pursuit of self-sufficiency Chelsea could fall down in the pecking order with the likes of City ready to take over.
Key Players – Drogba, Lampard and Terry
THT Verdict – The Dark Horse
For all the millions that City has spent, this could well be the year United take over Liverpool as the most successful club in English football. Not many would have put their money on United (in 80’s) to push Liverpool for the crown but the dynasty built by Fergie in the last two and half decades is bearing fruit.
Unbeaten in the current season and holding a substantial lead over its closest rivals with a game in hand makes the old horse an obvious favorite for this year’s race. But when one looks at them closely they look far from invincible and as we have seen in the case with Chelsea it doesn’t take too long for fortunes to change in football. Fergie would know too well that the draws could be a downside in their title challenge if they were to lose a couple of their potential tricky away trips.
• Rooney – A player who was scoring for kicks last season is now only able to do so from the spot kick and this ought to be Fergie’s biggest concern. Rooney looks a shadow of the player we saw last season and it’s visible that his motivation levels gave dropped. The scandals and the contract saga have surely taken their toll on the player but injuries too have played its role.
• Away form – United have not looked like a force, away from Old Trafford and a fifth position in the away league games is hardly the stuff of champions. One of the prime reasons for this could be the lack of an inspirational presence in the squad – a la Cantona or Ronaldo – which has been United’s trademark over the past few seasons.
Key Players – Rooney, Berbatov and Vidic
THT Verdict – Firm Favorites
– Ajay Chourasia