Since its inception in 1992, the English Premier League has gone to the ends of the earth to ensure us weekly footballing entertainment and the 2011 – 12 season looks set to follow in its predecessors footsteps.
The curtain was raised in a fashion only befitting of the league’s most successful team, full of quality moments that rolled back the years and sent a message to the title pretenders, last weekend’s Community Shield was the perfect advert for the league and of course the might of the Red Devils.
As the new season beckons however, I am forced to start looking at what’s what around the league – the movers and the shakers and all the hype in between, finally begin to play a part in the on going saga that is the best league in the world (there I said it!).
My first thought is how the spell of the Big Four has finally been broken. The last 2 seasons have been real eye openers both for clubs who have always been in and amongest the Europa spots, and for the Not So Big 2. While United and Chelsea have busied themselves picking up every Premier League trophy since 2004, Arsenal and Liverpool have been losing ground and somewhat chasing shadows. At least for the moment, Arsenal and Liverpool have seemingly been usurped by the emergent forces of evil at work at Manchester City and Tottenham.
My first instinct is to point out that maybe there’s been a shift in the league. Spare change has transformed City into a Champions League team almost overnight, but to what end? Do they have what it takes to play with the best in Europe? Do they have a squad rounded enough to happily rotate in every competition they are involved in and come off unscathed? City were found wanting in the Europa League last term, which leaves one to wonder if they’re prepared to cope with the pressure and demands of being a top four club.
Spurs last year took a mediocre squad with nothing to lose all the way to the Champions League quarter final. Valiant, but they learnt about the top four the hard way, as their Cinderella story was brought to an abrupt no nonsense end. Spurs found themselves with neither a talisman nor a clue at the wrong end of a 5 – 0 hiding (over 2 legs admittedly).
Finishing in the top four is both a gift and a curse and pretenders are soon found out. Can City and Spurs keep pace with the real elite who have been there before or is it a momentary blip in form for the Big Four old boys? Looking at Arsenal and Liverpool at the moment provides little in the way of answers.
We know Arsenal and Wenger’s tendency to trust in youth, but surely enough is enough? Still one of the best clubs to watch, I’m left wondering what direction the club is going. All signs are leading to the exit door for two of their pivotal senior players in Fabregas and Nasri, having lost their “current” second longest serving member in Clichy. Wenger needs to build… AGAIN. Not exactly something to look forward to as you look up longingly at United and Chelsea and sweat over the latest upstarts interested in 3rd and 4th place. I guess at the end of the day, hands have not been shook and no ink is drying… yet. For the time being Arsenal can rest on their laurels. I’m never one to write the Gunners off and while the new trophy cabinet at the Emirates may well be this winter’s firewood, you can bet Wenger’s scouts have been working overtime to secure the next Van Persie… or more importantly Fabregas and Nasri.
Liverpool on the other hand are flexing their muscle and showing their spending power..And why wouldn’t they after being on the receiving end of the record (£50 million) British transfer fee for Torres at the turn of the year. But is it just me, or are the Scoucers making very mediocre signings? Signings that don’t look to me like they’ll add anything new to the former power, but instead keep them somewhere in mid-table obscurity? Convinced I must be missing something, the jury is still out on what kind of push Liverpool will provide this time round.
All in all, the perrenial threats to the throne seem to me like they’ll cancel each other out and simply hand us our 2oth title. And how fitting in the league’s 20th season.
Don’t think for a moment I’ve forgotten about the Chelsea challenge. I simply think we know all about them now and as always, Fergie has figured out how to beat them on a consistent basis. The fact that their highest profile signing so far is a young manager signals we’re in for another blockbusting close to the transfer window; afterall, they started this spending game.
How do you think the top four will shape up come June 2012?