Premier League premium soap returns with promise of true title race | premier league

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IIt was another fall international break, almost exactly five years ago, that sparked Chelsea’s push to their final Premier League title. It’s a bit of a surprise that what now appears to be a banal form change, Antonio Conte’s quantum leap from two to three center-backs, has had such a profound effect on Chelsea’s season. But at the time, it seemed bold and fresh, a subtle tactical act of voodoo.

Conte had toyed with the idea of ​​the rear fenders during the summer. The desperation of a 3-0 bombing of Arsenal in the first half forced his hand. An angry and contemptuous halftime rejig was followed by an angry and contemptuous mini-break in Italy from which Conte returned with a winning formula.

David Luiz has gone from being the defensive equivalent of a particularly dashing Labrador puppy moving in a cardboard trumpet to a confident central colossus. Victor Moses tore up the right flank like few players – especially Victor Moses – have since. And this remains an important moment in other respects as well.

Chelsea inherited the Leicester trophy that season, a rare note of diversity at the top. In four years, the title has been safely shared between Manchester City and Liverpool. So far, and another run into Christmas that might just see a more widespread shift in gears.

The Premier League really doesn’t need more hype. The style, the tone, is always a major chord, always epic. But even an over-excited maniacal clock ticks the right time twice a day, and it’s hard to remember when the table felt so distinctly well balanced at this point. Who knows, it might even offer the rarest of things in European club football, a real multi-faceted title race.

Antonio Conte is now the manager of Spurs, five years after turning Chelsea into the title winner. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty Images

To date, the story of the season has been more of a soap opera. The news this week that US Premier League television rights have been sold to NBC for an improved £ 2bn has appeared significant. The Premier League can be an entertainment ball, and sometimes a pantomime. But it’s a high-end pantomime, A-list.

Witness, for example, the fact that the biggest story of the first 11 games has been the cinematically inflated struggles of the league’s sixth-best team, carried by the bolted magnetism of the Ronaldo industrial complex, driven by the chorus of Heads of the Easter Island on the punditry stools.

You really couldn’t imagine such a successful TV vehicle, some sort of angry real-time football gogglebox. The paradox that Manchester United are “in crisis”, while also dominating all measures on all digital platforms, will not have been lost for the marketing arm of the club. But it would be nice to focus on real football from now on.

There is no doubt that the delayed effects of the Covid season have been slow to manifest in the system, with the elite football sense still trying to shake off the last of its jet lag. The first 11 games were a period of maneuvering. Chelsea’s total of 25 points is at the bottom of the ladder for a leading team at this point (Liverpool had 31 in their title season, Manchester City 31 and 29 either side). There is mainly a feeling of still dry powder, from some top teams which are all in some way interesting.

A little under the radar, the European champions have a three-point lead in the lead with only four goals conceded. All this while struggling to integrate a record club at the signing in a role where they have no realistic alternative.

There is no doubt that Thomas Tuchel was cloistered, à la Conte, bewildering in front of his databases. It will be fascinating to see what he comes up with after 13 days of cold turkey sifting through the models of his evolving team. Romelu Lukaku is not yet ready to return. But there is a feeling, even as they are at the top of the table, of so much strength in reserve, of gears still untraceable.

West Ham is having the best time of his life as he seeks to finish in the top four.
West Ham is having the best time of his life as he seeks to finish in the top four. Photograph: Alex Pantling / Getty Images

The same goes for Manchester City. There were some sublime moments including the victory at Stamford Bridge, a silky choke performance. They are also a team with an obvious flaw, the lack of an orthodox edge, but City have yet to show their hand, still waiting to make the leap to hyperspace.

Liverpool are more like a known quantity. Again, this is a brilliant team with identifiable flaws, in this case the drop in quality that will come when players get injured or leave for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Peak Liverpool are still pretty much the same team of seasoned buccaneers. Supporting a title challenge after Christmas will be a test. But it also wouldn’t be a big surprise to see a better fit and available XI win eight games in a row and really get away with it. Salah-dependencia is vaguely profiled. They really need other members of this front line to achieve a prolific streak.

The battle for fourth place is a consistently depressing phrase, but it seems like an open battle, with West Ham, Arsenal, Manchester United, Wolves, Brighton, Spurs and Leicester hopefully. While Michail Antonio stays in shape, West Ham will remain the real deal, a powerful and well-trained team who seem to be spending the absolute time of their lives. Conte’s presence at Spurs and Arsenal’s resurgence add their own layers.

There is a separate mid-season look to write on the relegation fight, where at least seven clubs will digitize key games until spring. Newcastle’s history is fascinating. Never before had a group of players been told repeatedly that they were insufficient and then asked to do a favor to the team that would replace them by standing. Eddie Howe’s core vigor can provide the right kind of tonic.

There you go, the pistons start to turn again. The Premier League so often defies expectations, a dizzying, over-the-top and morally bizarre thing that still manages to emerge as a solid edged sport.

But for the scenes of anger in the streets last summer, we could have witnessed his precocious agony, suddenly sterilized by the dreaded Super League. For now, this weird, seemingly unbearable thing keeps coming back, all light, heat and noise, still poised to evolve into an alarming next step, but still an object of unspeakable fascination.


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