Premier League remarkable only for its mediocrity

November 22, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 16 comments

That Manchester United lies second, undefeated in all competitions, is remarkable in that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has barely performed to typical standards all season. Indeed, United should probably have lost four games by now but for the overwhelming determination of the Scot’s players to grind out results.

Saturday’s match against Wigan Athletic was a case in point. United’s lacklustre performance against nine man Wigan was uninspired to the point of being insipid. As the Reds had been against West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Rangers, Manchester City and many others this season, in a campaign notable only for its overwhelming mediocrity.

Indeed, such is United’s creative paucity at times – or its failure to shine in the case of Wayne Rooney – that the side is fast becoming a mirror image of the dark days of the 2004/5 season. The major difference being the Reds’ ability to not lose this campaign; it will serve Ferguson’s side well come more important fixtures in the spring.

Ferguson sees it differently, arguing – perhaps with a hint of disingenuity – that the Premier League is now stronger than ever.

“This league is without doubt a high-quality league now,” said Ferguson this past weekend.

“All the games you play are very difficult. You saw that last week when a young Aston Villa team came out and set about us.

“I think we know ourselves that come the second half of the season we’ll definitely get better.

“At this moment in the time, we just need to be in that bit at the top of the league. We’re joint top with Chelsea now.”

Still, Ferguson is likely to accelerate United’s transitional phase next summer if the Glazer family follows through on a reported promise to hand the Scot significant transfer funds. There is more deadwood in his squad than at any time since the aforementioned 2004/5 season.

Elsewhere the problems mount for Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea, which has now lost two Premier League games in a row and three in the past month. Ancelotti moved to deny his resignation – or sacking – is imminent prompting speculation that there is little smoke without Roman Abramovich’s flame having already been lit. After all, Jose Mourinho picked up his P45 for fewer sins than the Italian has already committed this season.

Much as in last season’s campaign, Chelsea really ought to walk away with the title race given United’s deep flaws and Arsenal’s inconsistency. That Ancelotti’s men are not is a factor of some bad fortune with injuries to key players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard but no more so than at Old Trafford.

More important still is owner Abramovich’s decision to let Chelsea’s squad deteriorate over the past three years. Such are the swings and arrows of living in a billionaire’s fantasy world when inevitable boredom takes hold.

Indeed, the once formidable midfield axis of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makalele has given way, at times this season, to the far less inspiring and not at all fearsome Ramires, Yuri Zurkov and John Obi Mikel triumvirate.

Meanwhile, Arsenal has seemingly overcome the propensity to be bullied out of games but gained little in consistency. Arsene Wenger has few to blame but himself after five years without a trophy and a idiotic refusal to buy a goalkeeper of any quality. The ironclad marriage to tika-taka is admired in many quarters but does not, and has never, extended to a plan b.

Elsewhere, Liverpool’s season is mired in mediocrity and internal conflict, Manchester City cannot challenge while its manager insists on tactics not deployed since catenaccio was in full swing, and Tottenham Hotspur is unable to cope with the Saturday – Wednesday axis of Champions League and domestic football.

It leads to a very realistic scenario in which United can win the Premier League come may despite – arguably – it being Sir Alex’ worst side in five years.

Of course, the true test of England’s strength in depth will come in the latter stages of the Champions League, where for the first time in several years, the country was unable to boast a semi-finalists last season. Many have predicted this could be Chelsea’s year though, although on current form that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, few pundits think United will do well in Europe’s premier competition either. It’s hard to argue that United will win the competition but Ferguson’s ultra-cautious outlook away from home ensures the Reds will be no pushovers. Especially if the luck that deserted United in last season’s quarter-final returns come the knock-out rounds.

It adds up to a season in which standards have certainly slipped at Old Trafford. Fortunately they have elsewhere too. It should keep Ferguson’s side in the hunt right until the end.


GeorgiaJon - November 22, 2010 Reply

Aston Villa match v MUFC, THFC beatin Arsenal, Sunderland beating Chelsea, half of Blackpool’s results, the fact that the three new teams this season aren’t already bottom of the league…

If you by mediocrity you mean predictability, then I disagree.

La Liga’s been a two horse race for years…
Serie A is, well, Italian…

bman - November 23, 2010 Reply

It’s definitely true that the big 3 teams are weaker than they have been in the past, but I think it’s also true that the rest of the league is stronger than it used to be. City and Spurs are very strong, and other teams are playing very good football, like Sunderland. There’s only a couple of teams that are real pushovers. Basically every team now has a decent set of foreign players, and is more tactically sophisticated, disciplined, and fitter than the average PL team was not so long ago.

If Real and Barca dropped into the PL, they’d definitely be the best two teams, but they wouldn’t be taking the piss every weekend either like they do in Spain, they’d have to fight for their points. The good Italian teams would find it very hard going, in my opinion.

redevil_83 - November 23, 2010 Reply

i firmly believe the standard of the leagues has improved, not mediocrity given way to rise

as for united we’re definitely not playing to our quality. i find myself scratching my head more often than not how we’re right up the table with such average football. i think teh title to this piece is a bit misleading your tone certainly moderates as you hit the end of you write-up. i agree that united’s determination and not its level of play (given current situation) will put place it well both at home and in europe and if we don’t imporve out football post xmas, we may need that slice of luck as well

redevil_83 - November 23, 2010 Reply

league is very intriguley poised no doubt. makes it all very exciting for sure going to the run in

vamos your red devils!

Jeet - November 23, 2010 Reply

Ed – I think both you and SAF are right – let me explain. SAF is right when he says its a better/tougher league because the AVERAGE level has gone up. Look at Blackpool, WBA, Sunderland, Bolton – they come out and go for it. I am not even talking of Shitty, Spurs or Everton. They are fast, physical and not scared of the big boys. These teams would have the mid-table teams in other Eu leagues for breakfast, no problems. So, there are no easy games, as SAF said.
On th other hand, you are right when you say that the league is shit because the TOP levels have dropped. You look at us, Le Arse and Chelsea and compare to Madrid, Barca or a full-flow Munich. As much as I hate to say it, they play better, faster, and more attacking football. Technically their players seem to be more gifted.

Personally, I like the EPL and the Bundesliga. EPL bcos of Utd. and Bundesliga bcos the atmosphere is great, they play fast, physical, attacking football, and because its very unpredictable. Its not as close as the EPL but its good enough. La Liga has an excellent top level, but an average level that belongs to the gutter. As for Serie A, why if I have trouble falling to sleep, I’ll just make myself a drink!

mongoletsi - November 23, 2010 Reply

Agreed about Serie A. Watched a few games last season and just gave up part way through due to boredom. It’s a myth that all the italians use catenaccio, but it’s no myth that it’s a bit tedious!

ian - November 23, 2010 Reply

OK we are by past standards a predictable & average team. One of reasons why Barca, Real & Chelsea are successful is they play their strongest & therefore settled team (& settled system) in every game that matters. I don’t know about Bayern. Nobody will convince me that players playing together every week & winning will not get better & better; it’s called understanding. One big problem is that we have not got a best team. The back five & now, thank God with Raphael; Nani & Fletcher (he is distinctly average at the moment) & Rooney (he has a great deal to prove). I’m not interested in “standards in the EPL”; I am about standards in Europe.Each night when I kneel by the bed I pray “We must buy a top quality midfielder or we will go to Hell”.

odbpowell - November 23, 2010 Reply

The Premier League is stronger than ever. Anyone can see that. There is strength in depth in the EPL, and you can’t say that about the other big leagues. Barca are without question the team to beat, but then beyond them, who should we fear? Madrid are totally unproven in Europe. Have they got pas the last sixteen in the last five years? Don’t think so.

I think the competition we encounter domestically will stand us in good stead against heavyweight European opponents who are accustomed to winning easily. Also, don’t forget we were robbed in Europe last year and totally outplayed a strong Bayern team.

We haven’t got worse since last season. The EPL has just got stronger.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - November 23, 2010 Reply

its clearly weaker ffs you judge a league on its big boys and our big four are worse than theyve been since everyone started calling them the big four, they used to be four of the top sides in europe now the big boys in spain and germany would demolish us and the ities would give us a game, the rest of the league havent caught up with us weve just slowed down, spurs arent better than when they had berbatov and keane, its only city that have improved, the rest only look good cause we’re not good enough to smash em anymore, you cant say this leagues better than its ever been when its got stoke blackburn west ham wigan wolves blackpool newcastle west brom fulham birmingham in it, thats half the fucking league of shocking sides

odbpowell - November 24, 2010 Reply

What proof have you that the big four are weaker?

If Barca and Madrid dick all over the Big Four this season then you will have a point. Remember we destroyed Milan last year and basically did the same to Bayern. Spurs are vastly superior to what they were. Didn’t they just kill Inter Milan, the European Champions? Don’t they now have Modric and VDV, not to mention a top manager?

I don’t think anyone can really tell just how strong the Big Four are until we come up against top European opposition again. I personally believe the strength of the Big Four over the last five years has caused the other teams in the league to improve, which is why the top teams now find themselves dropping points all over the place.

Fazal - November 23, 2010 Reply

There was a time when teams used to have a thorough makeover each time they win smething major.If memory serves right Italian teams in the 80s used to do that(of course it was easy since they were financed with dirty money then!). There was also a logic in that. Take Carrick for instance. Average player but who worked well with Scholes to bring us the success of the last few years. Then last year he just went missing..(not in the Gearge Best way!!) For a whole season his form was terrible, he was indifferent, lethargic, uninterrested, frustrating. I would even venture to say the reason we lost the league last season was due to him and Foster (England’s No1). Carrieck was so bad that he lost his place to Gibson!!! He has achieved much more than he could ever dream. He played in the second division and was then given a lifeline by Spurs. Do you think he ever imagined hitting the really big time then? No way ose!! So now he’s got the medals and the money..why bother? Keane also said something like this about some of our players when we won the Champion League for the 1st time…some of them said they didnt care ifthey didnt win anything ever again! This explains the lack of passion and desire in our team. Brown, O’Shea, Carrick, Anderson, Gibson, Evans, and some others must make way for others. If we don’t have the money then play the youth team; at least they’ll get experiece and there’s real quality there. There’s no quick fix to our problems unfortunately…

danniitronix - November 24, 2010 Reply

uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
its clearly weaker ffs you judge a league on its big boys and our big four are worse than theyve been since everyone started calling them the big four, they used to be four of the top sides in europe now the big boys in spain and germany would demolish us and the ities would give us a game, the rest of the league havent caught up with us weve just slowed down, spurs arent better than when they had berbatov and keane, its only city that have improved, the rest only look good cause we’re not good enough to smash em anymore, you cant say this leagues better than its ever been when its got stoke blackburn west ham wigan wolves blackpool newcastle west brom fulham birmingham in it, thats half the fucking league of shocking sides

yeah cos, apart from real and barca, the rest of La Liga as SO fucking good. Sporting fucking Gigon, fuck right off.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - November 24, 2010 Reply

the big four are clearly weaker than theyve been for ages, ffs what have you been watching, are we as good as we were when we had the best back five and front four in europe, are chelsea as good as they were under jose, are liverpool as good as when they had alonso and mascherano, are arsenal as good as when they had henry and vieira, did you not notice all four of us being out of the cl before the business end

we didnt batter bayern, they dominated the first game, we had a great 45 in the second then threw it away, they played better than us over the piece and were deserving winners

Spike - November 24, 2010 Reply

The “big” 4 are now the “big” 2 maybe 3…..the same as everywhere in Europe.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - November 24, 2010 Reply

no its still big four, liverpool being the biggest club in the country means theyll always be up there

odbpowell - November 24, 2010 Reply

I didn’t say we were stronger. I said the rest of the team is stronger. Yes, the big four are weaker, but this is about a league that is supposedly mediocre, and I’m arguing that it isn’t. The league is not defined by the strength of the Big Four (or five, or two, or whatever) — it’s the 20 teams competing week in, week out. And that’s what marks our league out as stronger than others. There is strength in depth; it isn’t mediocre.

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