Prior to the season kicking off in August, the English Premier League, often hailed to be thee most difficult, fiercely competitive and entertaining league in the World had more reason than usual to feel justified about its number one status. The reason for this was not just the multi billion pound global TV rights deal which saw and will see more money being injected into the coffers of each of the top twenty teams in the country (and the obvious knock on effects to player transfers possible for even the historically less wealthy clubs) but a plethora of world class managers either making the transition to the English game or starting their first full season in charge.
With the likes of Mourhino finally taking the reins at United, Conte trying to steady the ship at Stamford Bridge, Guardiola testing his credentials with the challenge of taking City to the next level and Klopp’s infectious man management style seemingly making its mark at Anfield towards the tail end of last term, then there was certainly a great deal in the melting pot to whet everybody’s appetite.
The question is, now that we have reached the half way stage in the season, has all the hype and pre-season promise lived up to it? It was Arsene Wenger himself who recently stated that despite the influx of the reputed top echelons of football management now applying their trade here in England, the actual performances and matches have not exactly lived up to expectation. I for one would agree with the Frenchman and cannot remember too many matches that have provided good examples of why the Premiership has become the most keenly viewed league around the world. However, there have been plenty of goals, plenty of upsets and I would still suggest that the EPL has the greatest strength in depth that continues to make the levels of competitiveness second to none. It is unfortunate for the neutral or non-Chelsea fan that they have stolen a march on the other runners and riders at this stage of the season, but with Spurs definitely out to end the winning run of their North London rivals (if indeed a reason was really needed) and to avenge their rivals for ultimately ending their chances of winning the Premiership last season, then tonight’s game at White Hart Lane may be one of thee most keenly contested this term. I expect at least one red card, plenty of goals from two in form attacking units and plenty of contentious decisions to be deliberated.
The last couple of months especially have been marred by too many wrong decisions being made by referees, too many dives going unpunished or teams benefitting unduly, incorrect offside decisions having big impacts on results and ultimately the standard of refereeing deciding the fate of the two teams. Some of the more observant amongst you will remember I posted an article calling for the use of Television Match Officials (TMOs) in football back in November, which was just prior to what became a hiatus of incidents leading many football critics, pundits and ex-professionals calling for such measures to be brought in to help eradicate cheating and more importantly to prevent the referee from singlehandedly deciding the result of a match. If the people at the top want to see a sustainable and continued growth in the popularity of the game then they must act now in my opinion. If football cannot be made completely transparent and fair for all teams competing before losing all sign of credibility and its own fidelity then it cannot be too long until fans begin to lose faith in the current system and realise there is no real point in supporting or watching something that is so prone to inconsistency and corruption.
I believe the battle for the Premiership title will be the closest in recent years and fully expect to see Chelsea clawed back into the chasing pack especially with Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal to face the Blues over the coming month. As for the relegation battle; that too has the potential to be a very close contest with three of the clubs vying for survival (Crystal Palace, Swansea and Hull) already having made their intentions very clear with the dismissal of their respective managers (Pardew, Bradley and Phelan). Add into the mix a couple of clubs boxing above their weight (West Brom and Bournemouth) and the second half of this season still has the potential to be one of the most exciting for many a year. Here’s hoping anyway.