Last Saturday, I settled down to watch Norwich welcome Chelsea to Carrow Road. Chelsea had notched up back to back wins, and Norwich had not kept a clean sheet in any of the previous league games. Surely Villas-Boas’ men were going to make it three in a row, right? Wrong. Over the next ninety minutes, I was treated to a brilliant display from the Canaries, where they not only held off the challenge of their opponents from the top of the table, and on another day, could have even had a goal or two to show for it.
Later in the day, I endured ninety shocking minutes of football, when Bolton, lying in the bottom of the Premier League table thoroughly outclassed and outplayed a Liverpool side which had commanded, among themselves, transfer fees in the region of £70 million. It was then that the thought struck me – had the Premier League really become tougher than ever?
Well, for one, it has definitely grown more competitive over the last few years. Long gone are the days when the traditional top four clubs Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United would fight for the top four spots and the rest of the league would be left to share the spoils. The competition has increased by leaps and bounds, and currently there are three real contenders for the title (Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur), as well as Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea, all quality sides which could easily finish in the top four this season. The title race hasn’t been this wide in years – for the most part it has been Manchester United and one other top four club setting the pace, while the rest lagged behind.
Then you have the surprise packages. Newcastle United are a prime example, sitting pretty at sixth ahead of Liverpool after twenty-two games, a position that no one had quite expected Pardew’s men to be in when the season had started. You have Swansea, that team from Wales whose passing style of football has been compared to Arsenal and even – wait for it – the mighty Barcelona. Such comparisons are not entirely out of context, with the statistics showing that , in the current season, the diminutive Leon Britton has had a better pass completion rate than the Catalan midfield maestro, Xavi Hernandez. This season has been such a close one that halfway into it, it is still anybody’s guess as to who will actually be relegated come May.
Every season throws up some upsets, but this time, it is more than the proverbial ‘few’ upsets. In December, Liverpool rolled up to Aston Villa, and made the Villa team look pedestrian. Two weeks later, that very team handed Chelsea a 3-1 defeat in Stamford Bridge. Indeed, a competitive spirit runs right through the league. It seems as if every team are capable of pulling off an upset. QPR may lie in the bottom half of the table, but they have beaten Chelsea. Blackburn have got the better of Arsenal and Manchester United. Even the bottom team, Wigan Athletic manage to look menacing every time they step out on the field.
All of these factors serve to enhance the standard of the English Premier League, which is widely followed by fans all over the world, and makes the season even more delightful to watch.
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