Flaws in Premier League's top six seems to be exaggerated by pandemic

Flaws in Premier League's top six seems to be exaggerated by pandemic

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reacts as Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho (right) looks on during their Premier League match at Anfield, on Wednesday. Picture: Peter Powell/PA Wire

THIS year's Premier League is starting to shape up a bit like Leicester City's triumphant and totally unforeseen 2015-2016 season.

If you recall that amazing season, Leicester's run on the title was a combination of the east midland's club dogged resolve and all the other clubs falling over themselves to hand them the title.

Regular top six sides like the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Chelsea ended the season with 10 to 12 defeats. Any run of form hit the rocks with embarrassing defeats at the hands of Swansea or Norwich.

In the end, Leicester had 10 points to spare over Spurs, who lost seven matches that season. And while Leicester were steady that year, they still had 12 draws that season, which is not the regular form of a championship-winning team.

For example, Liverpool lost three and drew three in their winning run last season and Man City only drew twice and lost four the year before that. And while they were exceptional years, sides usually can only afford about four defeats and four or five draws in a season if they intend to win the crown.

Returning to this season, the two top sides, Liverpool and Spurs, have already given up four draws and a couple of defeats with only a third of the season completed. City, United, Chelsea and especially Arsenal have all defied their high status with very mediocre results.

A frustrated Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola appeals to an official during the Premier League match against West Brom at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester on Tuesday.  Picture: Michael Regan/PA Wire
A frustrated Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola appeals to an official during the Premier League match against West Brom at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester on Tuesday.  Picture: Michael Regan/PA Wire

The strange results have run all season. Remember when Manchester City conceded five at home to Leicester? It had everyone surmising that this may be the end of the road for Pep and his Man City experiment. But it was closely followed by Man United giving six against Spurs at home and champions Liverpool traumatically losing 7-2 to Aston Villa. While Leicester themselves went down 3-0 to West Ham just as they looked like they were putting a run together.

Chelsea were the next side that looked like putting a run together and had some speculating early that this year might see them return to the top. But an impressive run of 11 undefeated results, after their loss to Liverpool in early September, has come a cropper in recent days with uncharacteristic defeats at the hands of Everton and Wolves.

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Most know the reasons behind such strange events over the past couple of months. The compressed end to last season, no pre-season, no fans, and no real break, resulting in injuries to key players has levelled the playing field, so to speak. But considering the huge resources available to the large top-six clubs, one would still consider that they would have the wherewithal to remain in their comfort zone beyond the grubby grab for points that lesser clubs are forced to demean themselves to in their pursuit.

But just maybe, the battle to get on top is not just a case of sides struggling to cope in these unprecedented circumstances. And while the world of the Covid-19 certainly cannot be helping any side they do affect all clubs. Indeed, it looks like the pandemic is having a magnifying effect on the underlining problems that already exist at the big clubs.

Man United's results are more than bad luck in the middle of a disruptive world event, but rather an exaggeration of underlying problems within the club, where expensive players fail to perform to expectations. Star players play the hokey pokey on whether they stay or go, all the while, an inexperienced manager struggles to hold all these disparate threads of discontent together.

Man City's failure to spark, unlike their title year of 2018/19 or even last season, smacks of a side already going into transition. The stars are still there, the talent is obvious, it's just the hunger seems to be absent.

Chelsea, despite gathering an exciting range of young and promising talent, seems to have failed to get the most out of them so far, most notably Timo Werner.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta shows his frustration on the touchline during the Premier League match at Emirates Stadium against Burnley.  Picture: Catherine Ivill/PA Wire. 
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta shows his frustration on the touchline during the Premier League match at Emirates Stadium against Burnley.  Picture: Catherine Ivill/PA Wire. 

Arsenal are in that awful place of the managerial merry-go-round desperately seeking a solution while many of the players have given up putting in a shift to remedy the decline.

Spurs and Liverpool have maintained a competitive race for the top of the table but even their limitations were clear to see on Wednesday. Liverpool's high-line opens them up to a quick counterattack leaving them open to errors as Roy Keane famously pointed out early in the season. While Spurs packed and disciplined lines of defence, as is Mourinho's style, does not allow them to dictate a match and leaves them without a Plan B should it all go wrong.

The pandemic has not been generous to any sport but its effects look to be exaggerated when it comes to the elite sides in the Premier League. Profoundly affecting the weakest links in each club that may well have gone unnoticed in a regular season it seems.

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