EPL: Everyone can Perform League

EPL: Everyone can Perform League
West Ham’s Andy Carroll (above) getting one over Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren in the Hammers’ 2-0 win on Saturday.
PHOTO: AFP

Prided on being the best league in the world, the English Premier League finally has a season befitting of its self-proclaimed status. Richard Scudamore's bold vision of a footballing utopia is showing signs of bearing fruit.

Not only can anyone beat anyone - they can now match each other, pound for pound.

Some things remain constant - Arsenal are still yet to prove their mettle as bona fide title contenders while Aston Villa and Sunderland continue to prop up the league's basement

Overall, however, the footballing landscape has changed.

Where it was once a duopoly (Manchester United and Liverpool), and in recent years an unbreakable four-strong hold (United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea), the league has become a free-for-all.

The underlings are now taking the fight to the big boys.

A successful run of results can transform a club's prospects for the season from merely treading water in the mediocrity of mid-table into an outside shot at European qualification.

No one is guaranteed success and, similarly, few are safe from the drop.

Preconceptions are finally shifting.

Only the eternal optimists among Leicester City fans would have placed their side at the business end of the table exactly 12 months after they were rooted to the foot of it.

So, too, would Watford supporters when they welcomed Quique Sanchez Flores last summer, with understandable trepidation, as their fifth manager in just two years.

Other supposed lesser clubs are also making salient points.

Stoke City have belatedly cast off their outdated reputation as a robust side under Tony Pulis even long after he left the Britannia Stadium.

West Ham United and Crystal Palace have disproved the doubters that believed they would spend their respective seasons mired at the opposite end of the table rather than placing themselves in contention for a Europa League place.

Chelsea's often cocksure aficionados, meanwhile, could never have envisaged that title defence would have not only fallen apart in the space of four months under the previously untouchable Jose Mourinho, but also left them perilously close to the relegation zone in that time.

CHALLENGE

At Old Trafford, they have never been so near and yet so far from challenging for their former birthright.

Across town, Manuel Pellegrini appears no closer to delivering a second and possibly final EPL crown of his Manchester City tenure.

Never in the EPL's history has it produced a campaign as unpredictable or engrossing as the current one.

Fierce critics, like Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail, have claimed this season is the worst in living memory.

Those seemingly happy with the running order that has dominated the past decade and even longer have clearly lost sight of the league's values, which are what has made this season so memorable.

There is an increased level of competition rather than the underdog tales which were never as extraordinary as revisionists would depict. They all contained an underlying narrative of expectancy.

Blackburn Rovers' success story when they ended Man United's stranglehold on the title with a steal on the final day of the 1994-95 season was bankrolled by their millionaire owner Jack Walker.

Likewise, the romanticism which surrounded Newcastle United's "entertainers" who ran United close the following season and Liverpool's left-field surge into the title race just two seasons ago clouded the fact that neither were even remotely rags-to-riches stories.

Money continues to talk, but less is now more. Cheap and cheerful have become the new marquee signing; anything £25 million ($52.2m) Memphis Depay can do, a £400,000 Riyad Mahrez can do far better.

Managerial rookies like Eddie Howe and Slaven Bilic are able to hold their own against heavyweights such as Louis van Gaal. Journeymen such as Alan Pardew can also hold a candle to the likes of Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger.

With a £5.13 billion ($10.7bn) broadcasting deal on the horizon, the playing field could be further levelled.

The days of a select group of clubs dominating the league's running order might soon become a distant memory.


This article was first published on Jan 4, 2016.
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