MANCHESTER United losing to Bournemouth. Liverpool snatching a draw from West Brom. Leicester favourites over Chelsea. The Premier League has changed. But is it for good and is it for the better?
Louis van Gaal’s season is threatening to unravel after the defeat on England’s south coast, literally the Cherries on top of an awful week for United.
Out of the league cup already and facing the ignominy of Thursday nights in the Europa League, United’s Premier League campaign is in real danger of shuddering to a halt.
Van Gaal has spent an unbelievable $530 million since taking charge at Old Trafford and has precious little to show for it.
Granted, they are only four points off the top of the table but on current form anyone who really thinks they can claim the title needs their head examined.
Can we say the same about Leicester?
Claudio Ranieri’s team go into their clash against Chelsea as just-about favourites.
It is a sign of the way things are in the Premier League that Jose Mourinho is widely expected to send his team out at King Power Stadium set up not to lose but also nullify the threat of his opponent’s clearly stronger attacking capabilities.
Chelsea, in 16th, one point off the relegation zone, going to Leicester, in third, one point of the top of the Premier League, not to lose. Read that again, just so you get it.
Chelsea will be a test for Leicester — Ranieri’s side have only faced “big teams” twice this season, losing to Arsenal and drawing with United.
And after this their next five games include Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham. If we didn’t expect to still be here at Christmas, the new year will really tell us where Leicester stand. And Chelsea, for that matter.
Whatever the result, Leicester are already the story of the season. Vardy’s goals, Mahrez’s thrilling creativity — the Foxes have spent more days on top of the table (17) than Manchester United (10) in the past two and a half years — when Sir Alex Ferguson retired…
It’s that stat that hints at the changing nature of the Premier League. With TV money flooding the competition, the smaller clubs can now afford to invest in better talent and fight off the big names sniffing around their best players.
Think back to Everton’s dismissal of Chelsea’s $78m bid for defender John Stones at the start of the season. Everton, for so long the paupers of the Premier League, turning down almost $80m from the reigning champions for a player who cost $6m.
The Toffees now boast the nucleus of a very exciting squad who, if they can retain and build upon, could turn Roberto Martinez’s side into the next top four raiders.
Look a little further up the table, ahead of Everton and Liverpool — currently languishing in 10th — are Crystal Palace, Watford and West Ham.
Palace, who have won more games than Tottenham.
Watford, with striker Odion Ighalo who scored his 10th goal of the season this weekend.
West Ham, who have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea already this season and whose move to London’s Olympic Stadium next season is likely to offer even greater financial growth.
Or what about Southampton, who held off United to keep hold of highly rated attacker Sadio Mane?
Or Stoke? Cloggy old Stoke, who now have more Champions League winners than City, Liverpool and Arsenal combined, and boast one of the league’s most creative attacking units in Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri.
But it is the winners we remember and ultimately trophies that will tell us whether this is a true return to competition or just an indictment on consistency in the Premier League.
Whether any of these teams can win the league seems unlikely — for now. But no doubt the league and FA ups are up for grabs, along with a spot in the top four — and from there, who knows what might happen.
The Premier League is changing. And it’s all the better for it.
You’d have to say Bournemouth’s defeat of Manchester United. Stripped of their best players, Eddie Howe’s team continue to impress with their commitment to good football. And Junior Stanislas scoring past David De Gea direct from a corner… ridiculous. United, on the other hand, have had just one second-half shot on target in each of their last three Premier League games.
You can almost understand Jurgen Klopp’s odd celebrations after the scrappy 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion. The German is desperate to bring the fire back to Anfield, with this game all too typical of the Reds’ results this season: W6 D5 L5, scored 19 conceded 19. Utterly average.
TOON ON THE UP
Steve McClaren can finally see the sunshine on Tyneside, backing up the surprise victory over Liverpool last week with another upset win against Tottenham. After conceding 31 goals already, there is a long way to go for Newcastle but the corner might have been turned.
Romelu Lukaku made it seven goals in seven games in the frustrating draw with Norwich. The Belgian’s combination with Spaniard Gerard Deulofeu is brilliant to watch.
GETTING THE ARSE
Arsenal went top after dispatching Aston Villa, with Manchester City up next in what looks to be a whopper at the Emirates. Win that and we could just be looking at the title favourites.