There has been so much talk about the 2008/2009 Premier League season being one of the most exciting in years, but that dream is over. After a heroic start to the season, Hull City could be relegated by May. Manchester United are seven points clear at the top of the table and seem invincible. Aston Villa have lost their momentum, and the neutral’s fans hope of them cracking the top two are all but over. All that seemingly remains is the battle to avoid relegation, which in itself is becoming predictable too.
In addition to that, consider the following facts:
- When was the last time Manchester United lost a match in the Premier League against a club outside the Big Four? The answer is 383 days ago when Manchester City won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
- How about Chelsea? The last time they lost to a non Big Four club was 544 days ago when Aston Villa beat them 2-0 at Villa Park.
- Liverpool? It was 118 days ago when Tottenham Hotspur grabbed a last minute goal to win 2-1.
- And Arsenal? The last defeat to a team outside the Big Four in the league was 97 days ago when Man City won 3-0.
- Out of Liverpool’s last 13 league games, 61% of them have been draws.
- Out of Arsenal’s last 10 games, 70% of them have been draws.
- So far this season, 12% of all Premier League games have ended nil-nil.
So, not only do we have a predictable season with Man United running away with it again, but there continues to be few upsets. And, to compound matters, we’re now getting more scoreless draws.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching the Premier League but I want to see more upsets. But even more so, I miss those incredible games that are permanently etched in your mind and make you scream out loud at your TV set (for example, Liverpool’s unbelievable comeback win against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final, or Man City’s incredible 4-3 against Spurs in the 2004 FA Cup). This season there have been very few memorable games. Liverpool’s late comeback wins against Portsmouth and Manchester City were entertaining but not classics.
Watching the Champions League matches this week, I saw a renewed vigor among Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea that I don’t see from them in the Premier League. It wasn’t English teams going through the motions. There was a spark in those teams that is desperately missing from the Premier League. Sure, teams feel more pressured to win in the last 16 knowing that they have to better their opposition in a series of two games to qualify for the riches of the quarter-finals. But why does it seem that those three English sides are using the Premier League as a dress rehearsal for the big one that matters, the Champions League? (Arsenal is excluded from this list because I didn’t get a chance to see their performance against Roma).
All I’m asking for in the Premier League is the element of surprise. In La Liga last weekend, bottom-placed Espanyol beat first place Barcelona. Could West Bromwich Albion beat Manchester United? Not in a hundred years.
The last bastion of unpredictability in the Premier League is what happens off the pitch, which is maybe why we glamorize the soap operas more. All of us in the media like to debate the sackings of managers, poor decisions by referees, the latest transfer gossip and talk about how the credit crunch is impacting the sport. As matches have become more predictable and boring, there are very few talking points from games. That’s why, I believe, more news print is spent focusing on the off the field antics.
I continue to be hopeful that weaker teams in the Premier League will improve and keep on fighting the Big Four instead of backing down. As some of you know, I’m a Swansea City fan so I took immense pride in seeing how my team played against Fulham in the FA Cup a couple of weekends ago. Watching them was a beautiful experience. Not only because of their incredible passing display and creative through-balls, but because they played with a passion and belief that is so lacking in Premier League teams. Ultimately Swansea didn’t win and they lost in the replay mid-week, but I saw in them what I saw in Hull City earlier in the season. A brilliant self belief, wonderful football and a commitment to never give up. Let’s hope other Premier League teams take note so things don’t continue to be so predictable.