By Shabab Hossain
In a season where Manchester City and Liverpool are battling for the Premier League title, with near perfection the only way to hoist the crown, those chasing just behind the duo are doing their best to look the worst.
Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United have all gone through stages this season where it’s appeared as if things might have finally clicked. Things could not be farther from the truth. If City and Liverpool are playing like kings of the jungle, the four teams following them are herbivores which can’t find grass in a forest.
On Sunday night, English journalist Daniel Storey tweeted a damning stat which emphasised the chasm between the two groups England’s best.
“The clubs in third to sixth in the Premier League have dropped 16 points in the last five days. Manchester City and Liverpool have dropped 14 points in 2019.”
All four teams have done their best in recent weeks to avoid the seemingly endless cashflow that comes with qualifying for the Champions League. Perhaps they would rather try the hard way to win the Europa League and qualify via that route instead of just making in the top four to begin with.
Once the tyranny of Jose Mourinho had ended, Manchester United enjoyed a short-lived renaissance as Ole Gunnar Solksjaer brought up the “Spirit of 99” at every opportunity. But since signing the dotted lines on the contract, the malign of the previous reign has returned, losing seven of their last nine games in all competition.
Lots of the criticism has been directed at the players, for supposedly not showing enough passion and pride for the shirt. But this is a team that’s parts have been stuck together by the whims of social media without much thought.
Their biggest signing of the year, Fred, has been a 50-million-pound disaster. Or worse so, the huge drop of form in the £500,000 a week object sitting on the bench that is rumoured to be the once great Alexis Sanchez.
The team Sanchez left from, Arsenal, has not fared much better. Even in a new era following Arsene Wenger’s departure, under the guidance of Unai Emery, their problems remain the same.
Their away form so horrendous that when travelling to Leicester, Wolverhampton or against a 10-man Watford, they resemble more closely to the already relegated Huddersfield than the titans they supposedly are.
It’s definitely not helpful that their best player, Aaron Ramsey, has decided not to renew his contract and seek pastures news at Juventus. While, the one that’s supposed to be their best player, Mesut Ozil, is most notable for the fits he causes when he’s subbed off after another underwhelming display.
Their North London rivals Tottenham were the ignored third-wheel in the title race for most of the season but being the only team in Europe’s top five leagues to not introduced a new face to the club has unsurprisingly been their undoing.
The introduction to their shiny, new stadium has been hampered with injuries to their talisman Harry Kane, as well as pretty much all of their midfield, forcing Danny Rose into that part of the field. Rose often looks lost on whether to go further forward, tuck in to protect the defence or stay on the wings.
Sometimes, it looks like he’s trying to do all of them at once.
Full credit must go to Mauricio Pochettino for maximising the potential of this team and then some more. As they prepare for the Champions League semi-finals against Ajax, after a memorable finish against City in the quarters, you can’t help but think this is as far as this squad can go.
While Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy voluntarily decided not to sign a single player, Chelsea will be forced into it with their impending transfer ban due to breaching FIFA rules on signing teenagers.
It appears that Chelsea might have to field their heralded youngsters rather than loaning them out like a dodgy bank. Their saviour this season, Eden Hazard, is already dreaming about the warm sun of Madrid, and they might not be able to bring in a replacement.
New manager Maurizio Sarri hasn’t really had a chance yet to implement his much famed ‘Sarri-ball’, but if they fail to make the top four for a consecutive year, he might never get that opportunity.
Two of these four hapless teams will actually somehow qualify for the Champions League, while Chelsea and Arsenal are still a good chance of making it via winning the Europa League.
The ‘Big Six’ as they are known now has now become a more of a ‘Big Two plus Four’ as the rest of the teams continue to show there are so many things to fix before they can even dream of a Premier League title.