There has never been an English Premier League season quite as split as the one currently being played out. The table seems to have developed into a mad dash to the top for the title and the Champions League spots, while the bottom has descended into a bar-room brawl for points in order to avoid relegation. The only teams not involved in either of these two battles are Southampton and Newcastle, who both surprisingly sit comfortably in mid-table with few worries about dropping into the Championship but with no hopes of getting into Europe next season. So in many ways, there is plenty to discuss at both ends of the table and nothing will be sorted out quickly.
As February begins, it seems as if the top of the table is being rearranged daily. The three leaders will slug it out for the title while the four teams behind them will compete until the last day for that fourth spot and European football. At this point it really seems as if Manchester City will continue its rampant form, despite a blip against Chelsea, and begin to pull away from everyone else due to a few reasons:
Manchester City is currently the team in form in the league. While I personally do not believe in form (I don’t believe it affects the outcome of matches or that the team that won last week will gain an added chance of winning because of their earlier matches) it is clear to see that Manchester City is the team riding a hot streak. This is because it has succumbed to its attacking talents and chosen to simply outscore any opponent rather than playing a tactical game.
No team in the Premier League, or any top professional division, is quite as reckless as Manchester City at the moment. Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly decided that the best course of action for Manchester City is not to play a possession game but rather to get the ball forward fast and to take as many shots as possible. While this style of football seems a little archaic in the age of Barcelona’s tika-taka, it is working week in, week out.
With the attacking talents of Aguero, Negredo, Jovetic (who really isn’t playing much) and Dzeko, it seems like Manchester City will keep on scoring at this rate for the rest of the season. Having just scored five against a resurgent Tottenham, Manchester City appears to be unstoppable simply by moving the ball quickly back into the box and relentlessly peppering the opponent’s goal. Though Tottenham wasn’t necessarily ever going to be competition for Manchester City, the Citizen’s complete domination at White Hart Lane showed that City will win the title this season.
I say Tottenham isn’t necessarily good competition because its recent form has been against poor teams and it is picking up points it expected to take. Tim Sherwood has seemingly gotten Tottenham to win, but not because of his own genius: Tottenham is still a poor side that will be lucky to come close to fourth spot this season and will end up in the Europa league places again. Manchester City, on the other hand, has overtaken Arsenal and sits atop the Premier League table due to its reckless, yet successful, desire for goals. While its defending has been shoddy at times, Pellegrini has decided, in true Carlos Bilardo style, that the only way to truly win games is to score more goals than the opponent. Manchester City has conceded 26 goals this season which puts it around the same level as a mid-table team but has scored 68 goals, which still puts it 11 goals above high-scoring Liverpool. With results going this way, it seems as if Manchester City will have the title wrapped up by the end of February.
The Chelsea game was an interesting test for City, who didn’t seem able to break down the over-rated Chelsea backline and gave up a few worrying chances. The game has been seen by many supporters and critics as the confirmation that Jose Mourinho is destined to win the Premier League title once again. But is that necessarily true? There are still 44 points to be won in the last few months of the league. That was the point that Manuel Pellegrini made before the match started and his team succumbed to defeat. In a league system, that is what matters.
It would seem that even though Chelsea may have won the marquee fixture between the two clubs it hasn’t shown any real reason why it should be champion over Manchester City. The thing to remember in this case is that typically, the team that makes the fewest mistakes against mediocre opposition wins the title; that is the category that Manchester City is dominating. It is also worth stating that the only team competing on all fronts is Manchester City and that is for a good reason. They squad has depth and quality cover in every position. Even with injuries, they could mount a title challenge.
I’m going to ignore Chelsea because it doesn’t need to be analyzed. It works hard, prevents the opponent from scoring and usually ends up winning by a scrappy goal not scored by its expensive strike force (with the exception being the Eto’o hat-trick against United.) Arsenal, on the other hand, should be discussed a little. The recent draw against Southampton definitely sent alarm bells ringing in the Emirates Stadium. Two days beforehand Arsene Wenger announced that any business in the club was unlikely; Arsenal had missed out on Morata, supposedly couldn’t land Vucinic, and wasn’t going to be able to pry Draxler away from Schalke until the summer (because the player didn’t want to leave until after the World Cup and Schalke had no reason to sell him.)
However, with its injury list growing and two lackluster performances in a row against Crystal Palace and Southampton, Arsenal decided to make a concerted effort to bring in Draxler before February. Given all the talk that had been coming out of Emirates during the first half of January, it seemed unlikely that Arsenal would make a big money purchase. The messages coming out of the club were that Wenger was happy with the squad and wouldn’t pursue a high profile signing this month (but even that was occasionally disrupted by statements suggesting that Wenger was concerned with depth.) But with the injuries and the performances of late, it appeared that Wenger was to make a desperate attempt to bring in Draxler because the Premier League seemed to be slipping away from his control. Panic signings can work out and Draxler is obviously a good player to bring in, but it does give away a lot of information about the mood inside the Arsenal camp.
The Kallstrom signing seems to be a reaction to Arsenal’s inability to get Draxler. If Arsenal had signed Kallstrom a few years ago then it would have been a decent purchase. While at Olympique Lyon, he was a successful and talented player with plenty of creativity. However, I can’t think of a single Arsenal fan that would be inspired by getting Kallstrom on loan. He doesn’t fill the need for a reserve striker or to provide some grit in midfield for those tough games against scrappy teams. His injury in the first training session was alarming; Kallstrom has a history of injury and it seems that this is going to continue. When Arsenal needed a player to come in and replace their own injured player, they seem to have signed an injured player. It is such a stupid thing to say, and I’m sorry that I’ve had to say it, but if you know a player is going to get injured then you might not want him at crunch time. It just seems to be a panic buy that shows just why Arsenal won’t be winning the title this season. And probably why Manchester City will win.