Well, I have to admit I’m perplexed by some of the performances of the Premierships traditional powerhouses this season. A month ago, most people would have been hard pressed to think anyone could trouble Chelsea for the title, now 6 points separate the top 6 sides. Suddenly, a real title race has begun at last as Chelsea suddenly developed a soft centre and ran bang out of luck. Manchester United continue to do what no-one else has ever been able to match, a continual accumulation of points, despite playing below par.
Arsenal, a week after an impressive win at Everton, decided to reverse roles with Tottenham on Saturday and capitulate when victory seemed assured. Manchester City, suddenly discovered the benefits of pushing men forward. Bolton have gatecrashed the top table with a series of powerful, football displays. It is, for once, an exciting season for more than the usual set of fans.
The old adage in England is the title is usually won by what sides do over the Easter holiday period. Yet, the Premiership fixture list has decided to send a series of mouth watering and crucial clashes before the end of 2010. Chelsea have to play Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Bolton, the toughest Christmas run in in the top 6. United have Arsenal and a raft of games that could see them stretch away. Arsenal have the top two as well as tough games against Stoke and Aston Villa.
The pretenders, Tottenham and Manchester City, have games that they have to win to prove their title challenging credentials and Bolton have City and Chelsea and 3 games they could easily win as much as lose. Looking at the run in to the New Year, Chelsea will be cursing their luck that the fixture computer has decided to play this particularly nasty hand on them at this stage of the season. The performance against Birmingham had a lot of positives for the Blues, but they came away empty handed after meeting a goal keeper who played like a man possessed, Ben Foster.
The additional soap opera of the Ray Wilkins legal challenge has now added further mystery stirred today by Carlo Ancelotti’s comments and the loss of Terry, Lampard and Essien. Drogba and Alex are both struggling with illness and injury and the squad suddenly seems very light. It is an unusual situation for Chelsea to seem so threadbare on a squad level.
Bolton meanwhile, continue to improve back towards the level the showed under Sam Allardyce but with a footballing panache and verve. Continually labelled as a physical side, Wanderers have now shown that there was a footballing side that a mundane manager like Gary Megson simply couldn’t find due to his tactical ineptitude. Bringing Owen Coyle to the club is now beginning to look like Phil Gartsides best decision as Bolton Chairman. Keeping Elmander may be the next best thing he does.
Yet, as I enter my 19th Premiership season as a fan, the nagging feeling that the old order will return to the top 3 places continues to niggle away at me. Despite the euphoria that having a title race so close at this stage can offer the fans of clubs outside of the usual title suspects, history continues to point to the challengers falling away. It would be lovely it was to be a 6 or 7 horse race, but by New Years Eve, the league table will point to where the title may end up come May.