A Break from the Norm and a Season to Remember: The Premier League 2010-11, Thus Far…
As football departs 2010, it’s hard not to be struck by one thought in particular: is this developing into one of the best Premier League campaigns for quite a while? Why, you might ask? Not necessarily in terms of the standard of football – standards at the top were higher a few years back with Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi Alonso still playing – but more so because of the remarkably unpredictable nature of this 2010-11 season. No one really knows just quite what might happen next…
In the past, the title was a squabble reserved for the big four (and more lately just Chelsea and Manchester United), whilst relegation was nearly always solely for the new boys and the league’s minnows. Midweek, however, the tables were once again well and truly turned on their heads. Manchester City briefly rested atop the league’s summit. Bottom-of-the-table Wolves then followed in Blackpool’s footsteps and won at Anfield.
These instances served to confirm how much of a head-turner of a season this campaign is turning into. We have already witnessed the remarkable feat of league new boys Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion both earning unexpected victories on trips to the Emirates. Only Chelsea and United managed that feat last season. Even Barcelona could only draw there.
The race for the title, usually narrowed down to two (or maybe three) of the usual protagonists by now, is more wide open than ever. Manchester City and all their new-money are now genuine contenders and a threat to the league’s traditional hegemony, not necessarily because of City’s fortitude or guile, but more so due to the fallibilities of their rivals.
Early pace-setters Chelsea have imploded, relinquishing what was once a five point lead to now find themselves four points adrift. Such is their demise that the Blues were bottom of the league’s last-six form table prior to yesterday’s victory over Bolton, with three draws and three defeats from their previous six league encounters.
Arsenal might well have shod their inability to beat their major rivals (winless in their last eleven encounters with Chelsea and United) with their 3-1 defeat of Chelsea on Monday, but their campaign has been permeated with frustrating and disappointing results, such as the afore mentioned home defeats to Newcastle and West Brom, the recent draw away to ten-man Wigan Athletic, and throwing away a two-goal lead to lose to rivals Tottenham back in November.
City’s local rivals and perennial giants Manchester United – although commendably unbeaten in the league thus far – have won just once in eight away fixtures this season. And as for Liverpool, well, the less said the better. Their troubles have been well documented, but their situation is perhaps best summed up as follows: the big four are no more.
None of the key title protagonists seem willing to grab this league campaign by the scruff of the neck and claim it as their own. Even Spurs have thrown their hat into the ring, with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and defender Alan Hutton recently pushing their team’s title credentials. As manager Harry Redknapp admits, the title race ‘is wide open’ and ‘this is the best chance Tottenham have had for some time.’ Spurs to claim the title? ‘It is not impossible,’ states ole Harry. United, Arsenal and champions Chelsea appear to have been joined by City and Spurs in the quest to claim the crown this season. It makes it, as they say, tight at the top, and consequently an enthralling spectacle has emerged for the game’s observers.
Moving downwards slightly, and traditional top six stalwarts Everton and Aston Villa have kept up the season’s surprises by languishing in the bottom half of the table, with the Villains seemingly threatened with relegation, alongside last season’s Europa League finalists, Fulham. Their top half places have been taken by an Owen Coyle-led and -inspired Bolton Wanderers, an improving Sunderland, and little ole Blackpool. Yep, the mighty Seasiders are making their presence felt in the top flight.
The Tangerines exemplify how surprisingly wonderful this season is turning out to be. Tipped by many (and the bookies) for a record low points total, and with a budget seemingly more suited to League One than the Premier League, Ian Holloway’s side have won plenty of admirers with their attacking approach to games, earning five away wins, plenty of points, several scalps, and having taken countless by surprise in the process. Theirs truly is a great story.
Blackpool might well epitomise this season’s unpredictable brilliance, yet there are countless further examples scattered throughout the league. League returnees Newcastle struck six past Villa; West Brom claimed a shock point at Old Trafford; Sunderland cast their poor track record at Stamford Bridge – and Chelsea’s fine home record, for that matter – aside to record a fine 3-0 victory, whilst Birmingham, Everton and Fulham have all taken points off Manchester United in the final minutes of their games. The top five are covered by just five points, whilst just two wins separate eighth from the relegation places. As Redknapp notes, ‘It is so open this year and there is not one easy game.’ Virtually anyone can beat anyone, and they usually have. Heck, even Fulham won an away game!
And off the pitch we have been kept simultaneously entertained and on our toes with an array of dramas befitting of this season’s top flight campaign. The main men at United (Wayne Rooney) and City (Carlos Tevez) have both seemed set to leave their clubs, before signing new deals and supposedly committing their future to the club. Who knows what the coming months will hold for both players. We have also seen the shocking and deplorable sackings of Sam Allardyce from Blackburn Rovers and the popular Chris Hughton from Newcastle, with the owners of both clubs coming in for criticism over both dismissals.
All in all, the sheer unpredictability of the first half of this 2010-11 Premier League season is turning it into an undeniably memorable campaign. Conventions are being broken, the traditional hierarchy overthrown. The Davids keep mugging the Goliaths, and don’t we just love it.
As it stands, the title could go to any of five teams, Bolton and – dare we say it – even Blackpool could make it into the qualification places for Europe, whilst Aston Villa and Fulham – themselves with European aspirations pre-season – could well find themselves tumbling into the Championship come May. It all contributes to a delightful break from the norm, especially for the neutrals and general football lovers in our midst. Here’s hoping 2011 brings more of the same…