Manchester United

Times Are Changing In The Premier League

As I write this, December 30th 2015, a simple look at the Premier League table will provide plenty of shocks to football fans across the world.  At the halfway point of the season, you would expect the traditional top four teams to occupy the lucrative Champions League places.

The traditional top four consisting of Arsenal,Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have barely changed since the Premier League era began in 1992. The only change has been the emergence of Manchester City and it’s Middle Eastern mega rich backers. Their money have allowed them to usurp Liverpool in the traditional top four. These traditional super powers of English football have dominated for over two decades. Until this season.

This season has been hugely unpredictable, with the traditional ‘big’ clubs dropping off slightly as those below them have risen up. This perfect storm has manifested itself into a current Premier League table which no one could have predicted before the season.

Yes, Arsenal may currently be top of the league, but after years of ridicule thanks to a recent lack of success, their accession to the top of the league has been slightly surprising.  The London’s clubs fortunes this season pale into insignificance thanks to the sterling performances of lowly Leicester City. The team that produced a miracle to stay up last season have been Premier League leaders for a huge portion of the season, currently sitting second in the league, level on points with Arsenal.

What is remarkable is that at this point Leicester were bottom of the league and looking certain to be relegated. Their survival was a fairy tale, but under new manager Claudio Ranieri, words cannot describe the unexpected success the team has had so far this season.

With a first team bought for less than £20 million pounds, Leicester have matched and beaten the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. The team’s transfer policy has been rewarded massively with bargains such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in particular stealing the headlines. Costing a combined £1.4 million, the pair have linked up beautifully this season to devastating effect.

jamie-vardy-riyad-mahrez-leicester-city_3375357Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez celebrate one of the dynamic duo’s many goals for Leicester this season. Photo copyright Sky Sports.

Vardy has taken most of the plaudits thanks to setting a new Premier League record of scoring in eleven consecutive games, and currently sits joint top of the goalscorers list with 15 goals in 16 games. Mahrez is not far behind his team mate, with 13 goals in 17 games so far in the league.

Below Leicester there are plenty more surprises. Pre-season favorites Manchester City’s struggling away form limits them to third currently, with Tottenham the current form team in the league sitting pretty in fourth.

They have rose steadily up the league, and this season finally looks to be the season they can break through into the top four and the all important Champions League, after years of just missing out in fifth.

Crystal Palace are another high flying team, who have gone from lower mid-table to fifth in just over a season under Alan Pardew. In any other season their performances would have garnered plenty of press attention, but amongst the struggles of others and the rise of Leicester they have been regrettably been overlooked so far.

One team who have certainly not been overlooked by the press have been Manchester United. Arguably the world’s most famous club are floundering in sixth, with a under fire Louis Van Gaal the most likely manager to be next sacked. Since the Sir Alex Ferguson era ended, the clubs management and transfers have not been up to scratch. Their traditional role as a perennial top four side is seriously under threat for the future if something does not change at the club soon.

3118074087Louis Van Gaal feeling the strain after their defeat to Stoke on Boxing Day. Will he still be in charge next season? Photo copyright PA.

Throughout the league there are shocks, with the newly promoted Watford surprising everyone by sitting in eighth, led by top scorer Odion Ighalo and his 13 goals. Liverpool are suffering from a turbulent season and currently sit tenth in the league, giving new manager Jurgen Klopp a lot to think about with the January transfer window coming up.

Liverpool are currently in the final stages of the steady declining process bitter rivals Manchester United are just entering into now. The club needs to adjust it’s transfer policy, which in recent years has been laughable in comparison with the likes of Leicester.

In the bottom half of the table, there is one glaringly obvious surprise. Chelsea. The current Premier League champions have suffered the kind of awful season rarely experienced in the top European leagues. Everyone has been wondering quite simply how can a team that won the league seven moths ago retain the same squad and yet be 14th in the league going into 2016.

Whilst many pinned the blame on top players turning on Jose Mourinho. Whilst the unthinkable happened several weeks ago and the special one was sacked from his beloved Chelsea, even under interim boss Guus Hiddink results have not dramatically improved.

This season is not likely to get any easier for Chelsea, and realistically they would be happy with a top ten finish to the season, something laughable before the season started in August.

2C3849B000000578-0-image-a-26_1442147035612This expression from Jose Mourinho perfectly sums up their season. The look of disbelief and regret is shared amongst Chelsea fans. Photo copyright Reuters.

With the consistent increases in TV money giving every team a lot more money to spend, it becoming clear the traditionally vast differences between the budgets of the top four and the rest is closing at a gradual pace. Whilst the likes of Man City and Man Utd of course have huge resources to spend, their performances relative to that of the likes of Leicester and Watford show that top ten teams can be assembled for a fraction of what the big clubs spend.

With increasing pressure amongst the traditional top four as to their current future’s, could this season mark a turning point in the traditional balance of power with the Premier League. With question marks over the manager’s positions at Man City,Man Utd and Chelsea for next season could we see the likes of Crystal Palace and Leicester consistently challenging the top four in years to come?

In the past it appears there was a certain fright factor associated with playing the top four clubs, but this season has consistently shown that any club in the league can beat the top four on their day. With this new found confidence, perfectly illustrated by Stoke’s recent demolition of Man City 2-0 a few weeks ago, I hope this season will become the norm as the Premier League seemingly becomes more competitive every week. I’m sure you will join me in eagerly anticipating the second half of this season.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Premier League? Please give your thoughts below and most importantly thank you for reading.

Liverpool title challenge needs more signings

Despite the fact it isn’t even August yet it’s already been a very busy Summer transfer window for Liverpool. Although they lost enigmatic talisman Luis Suarez to Barcelona, they’ve made a number of signings to hopefully compensate for his absence this season.

They seemed to have immediately spent the £75 million pound fee they received for The currently banned Suarez, with the Southampton duo of striker Rickie Lambert and attacking midfielder Adam Lallana being their first signings for £4 and £25 million respectively.

Next up was Bayer Leverkusen Central midfielder Emre Can who signed for £9.75 million, before Winger Lazar Markovic became their 4th Summer signing from Benfica for £19.8 million.

Their latest signing was only completed a few days ago as they finally completed the protracted transfer of Central defender Dejan Lovren from Southampton for £20 million.

Whilst all these signings are high quality players and will perform well in the Premier League for Liverpool, I can’t help but express my opinion that none of these players have the star quality Suarez possesses.

Whilst these players will be good I can’t yet see any of them developing into game changers as Suarez was at times last season.

Of course, this isn’t to say that under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers these players won’t be able to develop into game changer players. Yet I simply feel if Liverpool are to compete for Premier League again this season, they will need several more signings to compete. This is especially so as they will be competing in the Champions League this season also.

This point seems even more resonant once Liverpool look at the likes of rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and even Man Utd, who have all spent big to add quality and depth to their squads for the coming season.

Although I am not a Liverpool fan, I will be hoping a big club such as them will be able to compete for the Premier League title again, although for me they need a few more signings in August if they are to keep pace with the other title contenders such as Chelsea and Man City.

David Moyes: Doomed from the start

Just less than a year ago the future appeared very rosy for David Moyes. After 11 successful years he was leaving Everton a club legend to take over as the hallowed Manchester United manager after being hand picked by Sir Alex Ferguson. When he was announced as the new Man Utd manager on the 9th May 2013 the press conference contained lots of talk from both sides about the succession plan Man Utd put in place with this appointment. After being personally chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes seemed the perfect man to carry on the vast achievements of Manchester United into a new era. A 6 year deal with the opportunity to earn £5 million a year with bonuses was a perfect validation to their succession talk. Yet as of yesterday David Moyes is unemployed and Man Utd are facing having to pay him off £5 million until he finds himself a new job. What went so wrong for Moyes in only 10 months?

First lets look at purely his results over the 10 months. After starting well with comfortable Community Shield and opening day premier league wins things got progressively worse from here. He led United to their worst ever league start with defeats to bitter local rivals Manchester City 4-1 and a 2-1 home defeat to lowly West Brom heaped the pressure on Moyes early on. After a relatively stable few months December saw them suffer successive home defeats to Everton and Newcastle, the first time Man Utd had lost consecutive home premier league games since the 2001 season. This left the team languishing at this point in 9th, yet after only 15 games the team were 13 points behind leaders Arsenal. Here’s a picture of Moyes in happier times with the Community shield trophy.

Compounding their awful league form were exits from the F.A Cup in the third round at home to Swansea 2-1, defeat in the Capital One Cup semi-final to Premier League dwellers Sunderland and finally comfortably being outclassed in the Champions League Quarter- Final to Bayern Munich. The tension reached fever pitch as fans responded to successive 3-0 home defeats to hated rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, by flying a banner over Old Trafford before the next home game against Aston Villa calling for Moyes to leave the club. Here’s a link to a Youtube video report on the banner incident. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQZ77mPMdCA

After a slight recent turn around Sunday’s comprehensive trouncing by Everton 2-0 brought the tension back around Moyes. He believed however that despite the poor results to this point he would receive the board’s backing until at least the summer transfer window. On the other hand, the board seemed to want swift action as over the course of the following Bank Holiday Monday rumors became increasingly persistent that Moyes would be imminently sacked. The rumors were proved true early yesterday morning as it was finally announced Moyes had been sacked after only 10 months in charge.

Now we’ve established the results that got him sacked let’s now try to explain firstly why these individual results happened and secondly how the end result of his sacking came about so soon. Firstly let’s look at the task he actually took on becoming Manchester United manager. He faced the unenviable task of being the Man Utd manager after Sir Alex Ferguson. After Ferguson’s mammoth 26 and a half year reign which yielded an astonishing 38 trophies in 26 years, including 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League’s. Therefore with United fans accustomed to so much recent success Moyes was coming into a job with probably one of the highest levels of expectation in world football.

This would be something new for Moyes to deal with as he had arrived from Everton, a club who had rather more modest expectations to which Moyes would regularly over achieve. Inadvertently Sir Alex had also heaped even more pressure on Moyes by being so public with his view that Moyes was the perfect man to succeed him as part of the succession plan.

Another factor behind the downfall in results for United has to be the relative weakness of the current squad in comparison with other top 4 sides. This may seem a slightly ridiculous statement considering the squad possesses quality players such as Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, David De Gea and Patrice Evra. Yet around these players the rest of the squad seems slightly lower on all round quality in comparison with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. Part of the problem seems to be the fact Man Utd have an ageing squad yet the younger players coming through seem to struggle slightly to take over from the older players. Examples of this are surely the likes of Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Alex Buttner. Whilst all of them are good players they have under performed this season and appear unlikely to play to the level of those their taking over from such as Vidic,Giggs and and Evra respectively.

The point about under performing players above doesn’t only apply to some of the younger players this season. Another factor behind the downfall of Manchester United this season appears to be a combination of Moyes not being able to get the best out of his squad alongside a reluctance on the players part to play under Moyes. Rumors are circling in the aftermath of his sacking that Moyes was never able to get the respect and influence over some of the high profile players such as Wayne Rooney.

Whilst all of the recent points have been based around the actions of Moyes or the players themselves the club does not come out of this sacking blameless. Indeed it was their big talk of a succession plan that set expectations that were too high for Moyes as I explained above. Also the lack of overall quality in the squad could have been addressed in the summer transfer window before the nightmare season even started.Over the summer Moyes and the club made ham fisted attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, of which they only signed Fellaini in a deadline day deal worth £27.5 million pounds.

Again in the January window they only made the one signing splashing out on Juan Mata from Chelsea for £37.1 million pounds. Whilst these are both great players their first season can only be described as a disappointment as they have failed to produce much as they struggled to fit into the Moyes system Manchester United were playing. So although it’s early on it seems these two transfers are going the way of failed expectations there were plenty more signings the club failed to complete for a number of players undisclosed to the public.

Whilst many will try to pin the reasoning why Moyes failed at Manchester United down to one thing it appears there were several factors which meant he was doomed from the start. First the increased pressure and expectation as the club made sure the world knew Moyes was pre-approved by the legend Sir Alex Ferguson as the right man for the succession plan carrying on his reign. Whilst they backed him here they didn’t complete the deals he wanted in the transfer windows leaving him with an ageing squad and a fan base with high expectations.

It should therefore no surprise that Moyes was unable to carry on the success of Ferguson, yet everyone around the club appeared to be completely shocked by this. Whether this was delusional or simply not with the times doesn’t really matter, either in a damning indictment of those around the club. Once things began to tail off the players appeared to lose respect for Moyes and didn’t want to give 100% for a manager they questioned. Also the club didn’t cover itself in glory by dithering with his sacking with Moyes appearing to find out the news he was going to be sacked first from social media on Monday afternoon. Therefore it was all of these factors that contributed to the demise of Moyes with the chain of events being set in motion the day he was announced as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed, both sides have come out of this looking rather less respectable than when they started and for sure it will take a number of years at least for both sides to move past this nightmare.