The Premier League has been in absolute turmoil this season. Depending on where you sit and who you support, this could be either a good thing or a bad thing.
If you happen to be a fan of a traditionally “big” club, one that finishes in the top half of the table consistently, it is a nightmare. Just look at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. Chelsea currently sit at 14th, and, while they are returning to form, their title and top four hopes are deader than disco. Liverpool are still finding their feet under Klopp, and Manchester United have lost the ability to graft their way to wins.
If you happen to be a Leicester City, West Ham, or Crystal Palace fan, this season has been one big party. You can say the same for Watford and Stoke, too. What is going on this season?
There are several key factors that have lead to this. The biggest reason is complacency. It isn’t fun to hear if you like one of the ‘Big Six,’ or whatever we are calling them now, but it’s an undeniable claim. Whether they just got used to being able to ‘play ugly’ their way to a win, or expected to be able to rely on individual brilliance to pull them out, there was a general sense that the top of the table was unassailable. There was just too much talent and too much money to challenge that group. This arrogance and complacency is most apparent in Chelsea this season, but at times you can see it in any of the ‘larger’ teams.
The other big reason for the season is the massive influx of money in the Premier League. While this has been the case for awhile, it was always going to take a couple of seasons before we saw the true results. This is most obvious for teams like Stoke, who have been using Barcelona as a feeder club for a few seasons now, but most of the teams in the Premier League have been able to spend much more on players because of the millions of pounds coming in. The biggest difference between the spending of these smaller teams and the Big Six is that there is less pressure on the smaller signings to succeed. This has allowed the rest of the league to invest in low risk, high reward players that are at a higher caliber than was previously available to them. Players like Bojan or Riyad Mahrez, who are incredibly talented, but maybe not ready for the step up or who out-of-favor with bigger teams then became the bread and butter of the rest of the league team. It is this level of players that tend to fly under the radar of larger clubs that are currently leading many of these smaller clubs to such riotous success.
So, the question remains. Is this season a sign of things to come? Can we expect more seasons like this? I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Scenarios similar to this have happened before, with sentiments like the above being expressed as well. It happened with the rise of Manchester City and Spurs in the late 2000s. It happened in 1995, with Blackburn Rovers shocking everyone by winning the Premier League. While change did arrive in these events, it didn’t lead to a full on death of the the Premier League elite.
What we can expect at this point is a death of the complacency that is pervading the current climate among the largest teams in the league. This season will serve as a wakeup call, that they need to take the rest of the league seriously. While this may lead to cup competitions suffering a bit more, a message will be sent. Chelsea will stop sleep-walking its way through games. Manchester City will give several teams a beat down. Spurs will continue to be very, very difficult to beat. Arsenal will keep doing what they’ve been doing all season (which is why they currently sit in first). Who knows, Liverpool and Manchester United might even start scoring goals. These two teams, the great enemies, are the two most in need of a statement victory.
We also can expect the big teams to look at what is working for the smaller teams and integrate it into their own play. What has been working for Leicester and Stoke and Crystal Palace? For one, they work really well as a unit. We are already seeing this integration in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, and beginning to take root in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Fast counters and speed in general will see a bit of a renaissance, with less of a focus on possession (which is itself a reaction to the prevailing tactics at the time it became popular).
Ultimately, this season is the next stop in the cycle that is the most exciting league in the world. Just like the seasons of the year, there is a period of upheaval (spring), a reaction to that upheaval and a growth in the big teams (summer), a period of utter dominance (fall), and, finally, a period of stagnancy and status quo (winter). While every season may not fall into this, or one period may encapsulate multiple seasons, this is the general flow of the league. Without a doubt, there are changes to the league that shift it permanently, such as the rise of Manchester City or Chelsea due to own buyouts, Liverpool and Manchester United’s growth Bill Shankly and Alex Ferguson, respectively, but these events are much rarer. The wheel continues to turn, with a reaction and a reaction to the reaction. Unless, of course, Leicester channels their inner Daenerys Targaryen (Slight spoilers: Season 5 of Game of Thrones):