Friday, November 15, 2013

Pennant Fever

We haven't kept as close a watch as usual on the English Premier League.  And that's a shame, because the world's most famous soccer league is having quite an amazing year.  You will recall that for the last two decades, the EPL was dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson, who took Manchester United to 13 titles in the last 21 seasons.  In the other eight seasons, Man Utd came in second five times and third three times.  So they have totally dominated play.  Of the other eight titles, three went to Arsenal, three went to Chelsea, one went to Blackburn Rovers (way back in 1994-95), and the last went to Manchester City (in 2011-12), when City beat United on the last day of the season.  So most teams really haven't had much to get excited about.

But Sir Alex finally retired after last season, and so far it does not appear that his successor -- David Moyes (who used to manage Everton) is of his quality.  Meanwhile, Manchester City fired Roberto Mancini, who took them to the title in 2011-12 and to a second-place finish in 2012-13.  (Don't ask me why; soccer managers are fired at a pace Americans would find very difficult to understand.)  Meanwhile, Chelsea re-hired Jose Mourinho, the manager who led them to titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06.  Liverpool, which has struggled in recent years (despite being owned by the same folks who own the Red Sox) are in their second year under manager Brendan Rodgers, while Arsenal are sticking with old hand Arsene Wenger, who has managed the Gunners since 1996.

Anyway, with all the changes that have taken place, we were due for a shake-up at the top of the table, and that is what we have so far.  As of today, no less than nine teams are still in contention for the title:

1.  Arsenal:  8-2-1 (25 points)
2.  Liverpool:  7-2-2 (23)
3.  Southampton:  6-1-4 (22)
4.  Chelsea:  6-2-3 (21)
5.  Manchester Utd:  6-3-2 (20) (goal difference of 5)
6.  Everton:  5-1-5 (20) (goal difference of 4)
7.  Tottenham Hotspur:  6-3-2 (20) (goal difference of 3)
8.  Manchester City:  6-4-1 (19)
9.  Newcastle Utd:  5-4-2 (17)

As you can see, every team (except for Everton, which has five draws) has already lost two games from their first 11.  This is a remarkable change from the more stately proceedings of recent years, in which United would usually roll to the crown while losing only two or three games all season.  In fact, the Sydney Morning Herald says this is the best title race since the EPL was established in the early 1990's.

And what's the deal with Southampton, long known only as an also-ran?  They have a new manager, Mauricio Pochettino, an Argentine who they got from Espanyol of Barcelona.  If he could keep them in the Top Four all year, he would be a true miracle worker.

I still think that, over time, the quality of the two Manchesters is likely to tell.  But for now, I'm planning to watch more soccer than I have for some time.

No comments:

Post a Comment