As the English Premier League completes Round 8 this weekend, only nine points separate the league leaders from the team in 14th position. By now every team has lost at least once with a lot of fancied horses tumbling many times more. Seasoned veterans have come unstuck and quite a few managers are standing on the edge of Sack Hill. But, there have been positives and surprises as well not to mention rousing performances both on and off the field. Let’s have a look at some winners and losers so far.
Defending champions Chelsea have imploded spectacularly and lie in 16th position after this weekend’s meek capitulation against Southampton. While the team has lost its talismanic goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to injury, the same group of players who looked unbeatable last season has been humbled four times thus far and looks dispirited, disjointed and rudderless. Jose Mourinho, who is suddenly staring down a barrel, has tried every trick in his book of thespian delights, even a solo rant in the press conference after the Southampton game – but whether all this will keep Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich quiet is probably something punters are loath to bet on. While there is still time to rise up and hit top form, Chelsea probably need to look inwards and get their manager in a good frame of mind first before tackling player issues like loss of form etc.
Liverpool, one of English football’s poster clubs, is also reeling from a run of bad form. The heady days of Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard ably marshalled by the stoic Brendan Rodgers, are now mere memories. The first three are long gone while Brendan Rodgers has finally got the sack after Liverpool barely made it to the top ten with three wins and two losses. The Kop has fallen silent and if the results do not improve, the murmurs of dissent will only get louder.
Tyneside regulars must be looking on in horror as Newcastle United presently occupy the last position with their arch rivals and neighbours Sunderland in 19th spot and the North is getting decimated with every passing week. Both these teams have lost five matches each without a single win and Dick Advocaat was probably the first casualty of this barren run of form, stepping down as Sunderland manager after just eight games this season.
Tottenham Hotspur have also had an indifferent start to the season, currently lying at eighth place and they would need reinforcements in the January transfer window, increased commitment on the football field or both to make a move towards the top. However, Arsenal, after a scratchy start, will have a new sense of belief after a rampaging 3-0 victory over bitter rivals Manchester United and now find themselves just two points shy of table-toppers Manchester City.
There are several contenders for the winners’ gallery. Much to everyone’s surprise, the two Manchester teams have shown a lot of pluck and resilience to emerge early leaders in this league. While City started with a bang and demolished every team in the first few weeks, the absence of David Silva and the indifferent form of Sergio Aguero brought them to a skidding halt with two recent defeats. However the six goal rout of Newcastle this week with a stunning five-goal blitz from Kun Aguero sees them firmly in the top spot once more. Given the low key but tight control Manuel Pellegrini exerts over his team, City could go a long way if they can hold on to their form and stay injury free.
United on the other hand, started in their now familiar stop-start manner with very tight victories and edgy defending. A loss to Swansea City once again seemed like an early death knell but the introduction of French wonder kid Anthony Martial started a small revolution of sorts. Not only did Martial score a bunch of goals but his strong presence as a striker has given United the space and creativity needed to unlock the midfield value which was missing before. However, the optimism came crushing down after a rudderless display against Arsenal. This is a team in transition and though one feels that a league title is too much to hope for, at least the team is finally moving in the right direction as envisaged by manager Louis Van Gaal.
But the true revelations have been the three newcomers– Crystal Palace, Leicester City and West Ham United. First-time entrants to the rarefied top five, they have been fearless while facing top flight opposition, backed by managers who believe in their squads.
Whether they can keep up the good work over the winter and spring months will be what pundits will wait and watch. But they have already proved that victories against them can no longer be taken for granted. Every big team with superstar squads and big budget plans is being stretched in every match and what earlier seemed like a flash in the pan is suddenly looking like a long-lasting nightmare.
As teams grapple with injuries and European ambitions, there are many more twists and turns left before we have a clear idea of who will take the coveted league title. And with every match proving to be as unpredictable as the English weather, football fans are not complaining at all – for a change.
Rathindra Basu (@rathindrabasu) lives, breathes, sleeps sports and is forever waiting for the next Indian sporting triumph. Since this usually takes much time and infinite patience he also listens to music, reads voraciously and eats almost anything that moves!