I write a lot about the English Championship and in that league the top four, Stoke City, Bristol City, Watford and West Brom, are all doing their level best not to get automatic promotion. Only Stoke have won in their last two games, and that is one in five for them. The rest of the teams can’t buy a win. Despite that, the chasing pack are making no inroads because they can’t win either.
I thought this was because it was a tough league and there were no outstanding teams in it. However, a glance around the top leagues in Europe will show that teams at the top everywhere are trying not to win their leagues.
What is going on? Worldwide corruption? Teams unable to handle the pressure?
In the English Premier League Arsenal were taking control just a few weeks ago. Four draws in a row, a loss of eight points, have seen them slip back alarmingly. They currently sit seventh in the form table with just ten points from their last six games.
In La Liga in Spain both Barcelona and Real Madrid appear desperate not to win the the title. Madrid keep losing and handing the impetus to Barcelona who return the favour. Madrid and Barcelona sit tenth and sixth in their form table with nine and ten points respectively from their last six games.
It isn’t so clear cut in the Italian Serie A, but even Inter, unbeaten for so long, are only sixth in their form table. Eleven points from six games is not title winning form, and they have,of course, also lost their first game of the whole season.
Ligue 1 in France sees Lyon at the top and going well. Their closest challengers Bordeaux have let them off the hook by taking only ten points from their last six games. They are fifth in the form table.
Bayern Munich are trying to allow others to overtake them in the Bundesliga having taken just eleven points from six games, the same return as PSV in the Dutch Eredivisie. They are fifth and sixth respectively in their form tables.
Porto buck the trend somewhat in Portugal by being top of the table by a mile and top of the form table, but even in Scotland where the Old Firm can only drop points to each other, Celtic managed to draw a game at home to Dundee United to ensure they don’t hit top spot.
It all looks a bit fishy to me. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t used the phrase ‘buy a win’ at the start of this article!
My own team, Watford, were eight points clear at the top of the Championship at one point earlier in the season. To ensure that we didn’t stay there we went on a run of winning only two games in ten. We managed eight home games in a row without winning. Then, presumaby by mistake, we started to win again. Top spot loomed. As a result we haven’t won in six games again now. Two of those were 0-0 draws against other top four teams in which we missed penalties. You’re going to try to convince me there is no conspiracy!?
So what is the real reason that the teams who have established themselves as the best in their leagues over a sixth month period are now struggling to pick up points? Have they become bad sides? Obviously not. Have they lost players to injury? There are some, Eduardo for example, but on the whole, most of the top teams have players returning to fitness rather than the other way round. Are the teams tired from all the competitions they are in? An old lame excuse. Has someone placed a very big bet somewhere on the winners of the leagues? Hush my mouth.
This coming weekend sees what has been called ‘Grand Slam Sunday’ in the English Premier League when Manchester United host Liverpool and Arsenal travel the short distance to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea. Do we expect exciting football, lots of goals and all four teams looking for the win? Unlikely. My prediction is that none of the four will win. If they do, it’ll be through a mistake by the opposition.
The reason for the dip in form by all the teams at the top must be related to the pressure on the teams to succeed. Why else would Arsenal fail to win at home to Middlesbrough with 85% of the possession? Why else would Real lose to Deportivo or Barcelona fail to win in Almeria. Why else would Inter lose at 12th placed Napoli or Bayern Munich lose at fourth from bottom FC Energie Cottbus? I can only think of one other possible reason and I don’t want to go there.
I don’t really think there is corruption or a conspiracy but if Manchester United fail to beat Bolton tomorrow night I might just have to reconsider!
Graham writes at Views of a fan