Although Chelsea sit at the summit of the table after 14 Premier League games with 28 points, they have already lost 4 times. Manchester United, having drawn as many games as they have won, sit second with the same points; Arsenal are only two points adrift having already lost 3 home games this season.
Harry Redknapp recently stated that Chelsea and United are not the sides of old and the Premier League is “wide, wide open” and who could argue?
With respect, in the past, matches such as West Brom and Sunderland at home were considered bankers for 3 points. Last Sunday, Sunderland comfortably beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge 3-0. West Brom have beaten Arsenal at the Emirates this season and fought back from 2-0 down at Old Trafford to earn a point. This simply would not have happened in seasons gone, yet whether this is due to the ‘weakness’ of big teams or the fact the rest of the premiership is closing the gap is a matter open for question.
In previous seasons, teams would go to the so called ‘big 4’ and pack the midfield and wait to be inevitably picked off. Now, more often than not, teams go there and attack and the unpredictability of this season’s results are there for all to see. A crop of teams such as Bolton, Sunderland and Stoke are all improving and do believe they can beat the ‘bigger teams’.
Manchester City, having spent a small fortune, should sense an opportunity. Yet, albeit with a comfortable win at Fulham this weekend, they continue to struggle to break teams down and will draw too many games to win the league. They also continue to rely heavily on Carlos Tevez but should have another £80 million to spend in January. If they put any kind of run together, they could find themselves very quickly at the top.
Along with City, Tottenham are a team who could and probably should start to sense an opportunity. For the first time in several seasons they have genuinely top class players; Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart wouldn’t look out of place at any team in the world. The way they fought back at the Emirates to claim 3-2 shows their character but they still lack the genuine belief that they could win the title. An addition or two in January, notably a striker, would boost their challenge immensely, however with the continuing absence of Dawson and King, they are vulnerable at the back.
The change in the balance of power could lie in recent transfer windows; the departure from United of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2009 was a massive loss, not just goals, all 30+ he provided each season, but his mere presence immediately put teams on the back foot. There was no marquee signing to soften the blow although his direct replacement Valencia has been outstanding (before his injury). This summer, in came Hernandez, Bebe and Smalling; but not Benzema or Ozil who they were reportedly tracking. United have struggled to win away from home this season, and although unbeaten, simply have not won enough games. But with a returning Wayne Rooney I expect this to change.
As for Chelsea, instead of Torres and Schweinsteiger, in came Ramires and Benayoun. There is no Carvalho, a loss which is significant, Chelsea’s defensive frailties and lack of depth have been exposed recently and I doubt that would be the case if he had been present. With no Essien and Lampard, they are extremely lightweight in midfield and Malouda, Drogba and Anelka’s fine early season form has hit a blip. I think teams believe they can finally get at Chelsea with their continuous absence of key players, and get their just reward.
Arsenal continue to promise so much, at times they are incredible, at times woeful. Their ability to pass the ball is as good as anyone in the world, bar Barcelona, but their core is too soft and they seem incapable of turning promise into real title prowess. They have not made the best signings in central defence and are extremely vulnerable to set pieces along with the fact they still lack a top class goalkeeper. But in the unpredictability of this season’s race should consider themselves real contenders.
Unlike in Spain, where Barcelona and Real Madrid will run away with the league, this season promises to be the most open and most exciting in the Barclays Premier League in recent years.