This season it looks like there is a change in Premier League footballing equilibrium. For the last 15 years since Blackburn won the PL title the league has enjoyed, or endured depending on your perspective, a duopoly of one kind or another. Manchester United along with either us or Chelsea has shared the titles, with ManU having much the bigger share. Even the top four has been a given for the most part with Liverpool dropping out occasionally. But with a little over a third of the season gone it might now be shaping up a little differently.
With finances beginning to restrain the two clubs that have dominated the title for the last 6 seasons and the financial empowerment of Manchester City the landscape is changing. Add to these recent increases in broadcasting revenues and the benefits to the smaller clubs a more equitable distribution of the funds than currently exists in other major European leagues brings and the balance is tipping away from the degree of dominance over the last 15 years. Most of that change is positive. Other clubs are in many cases appointing managers that are wiser technically than we`ve had in recent times. The idea that in order to beat the top teams the smaller clubs need to get in their faces pack a load of players behind the ball and see if you can nick a chance is gradually being surpassed by managers like Di Matteo, Coyle and Holloway who realise that you have as much chance if not more if you take them on. With just a little more spending power that enhanced broadcasting revenues give them together with a greater need for financial prudence among the big spenders and the top half, maybe even the top two thirds looks as close as it has been for many seasons.
It would have been hard to predict that Chelsea would lose 4 of their first 14 league games or that ManU would only win half of theirs. Admittedly it`s not so much of a stretch to imagine that we would lose 4 games, we`ve long had the capacity to shoot ourselves in the foot, but it can be seen as something of a surprise for three of them to be home games. All of the clubs have had to endure bizarre results. If Chelsea can lose comprehensively to a Sunderland side fresh from a hammering a couple of weeks earlier at Newcastle then nothing else should be too much of a surprise. Of course there is the time, and there is still time, for a team or teams to assert some dominance, to put a run of games together that stretches the distance from the pack. Squad depth and injury fortunes will determine who is able to do what. It may yet be that the top four will still end the season with a familiar look about it but the challenge to that comfortable certainty of the last 15 years is more real than it`s ever been.
That`s the way football should be competitive, open, unpredictable and with nothing to be taken for granted. Football is far more exciting with a number of clubs believing they have enough to play for that they needn`t feel the big clubs are too powerful to take on – and for the bigger clubs to know that they are not so mighty that they can`t be toppled by teams lower in the league. Supporters might hope for a calm unchallenged orderly procession to a title but football is in pretty poor shape if that can take place too readily. It may be uncomfortable for those used to believing the top positions are set in stone but it`s much better for football overall if it isn`t.
It should be a good league this season. One well worth winning and one that is winnable but only one club will not be left with a feeling realistically familiar to few over the last 15 seasons – if only. A number of other clubs, perhaps more than usual, could be left experiencing just that feeling this time round.
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