herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Drab Derby exposes Premier's general decline

English top flight showpiece fixture was a confirmation of dropping standards

Manchester United's Juan Mata in action with Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi
Manchester United's Juan Mata in action with Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi
Manchester United's Dutch manager Louis van Gaal (Centre L) and Manchester City's Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini (Centre R) speak after the final whistle

The Manchester derby last weekend confirmed something which has been growing in my mind for the last few seasons. Despite truly staggering amounts of money invested by all the top sides, standards have plummeted.

This was a showpiece game for the Premier League, a big event in the calendar and with a huge global audience watching. Many of them must have fallen asleep.

Perhaps we were spoiled by Alex Ferguson who dragged other clubs up to his level by virtue of the fact that to beat Manchester United while he was the manager, you had to have very good players and a very good coach.

Arsenal accepted the challenge he threw down and Arsene Wenger produced a golden period for the Gunners.

Chelsea took on the job and matched Ferguson too and when money started to pour into Manchester City, we had an ultra-competitive environment.

Liverpool and Spurs waxed and waned but both clubs were able to take on Ferguson's teams and win.

Now he's gone and with him went a competitive edge. Manchester City won the title in the season after he retired almost by default when Liverpool collapsed in the run in and Chelsea, with a good defence, one striker and a decent midfield had eight points in hand last term.

I know lot of people are talking about how open the title race is this season but 'open', in this case, is not a good thing. What they really mean is that no team looks near good enough to win it. Every one of those with title ambitions has very obvious weaknesses.

Headlines

Everyone seems to be under ferocious pressure and managers have been dominating the headlines for the last few months and for obvious reasons. Jose Mourinho is making an awful lot of noise and everyone is fascinated to see whether Louis van Gaal is the real deal or if he is making it up as he goes along.

But I wonder are we all focused on the managers because the football isn't great. I don't think I've seen a memorable game this season, at least memorable for the right reasons.

The derby was a good example. It was awful. There was very little good, flowing football, very little constructive football and no goals.

Manchester United couldn't hit a barn door a yard away against Middlesbrough in the League Cup and were dumped out of the competition. Wayne Rooney was even worse in that game than he was in the derby.

Van Gaal's way is dull and not very effective. Time may change the second part of that statement and more money in the transfer market but I can't see his team ever being attractive to the eye.

If he can find a striker or two, it might be enough to dominate in England but not beyond the Premier League.

Much has been made of the Premier League clubs's problems in the Champions League and how it indicates that the best in the 'best league in the world' has fallen behind the elite in Europe.

I have to say, I didn't need to watch the Champions League to realise that. For two or three seasons now, there has been a steady spiral downwards.

Chelsea are disintegrating in front of our eyes and Jurgen Klopp has a major rebuilding job on his hands at Anfield, perhaps one that has been needed for two decades.

I see they've brought Steve Heighway back into the Academy and perhaps that shows signs of their intent to build from below but Klopp will need time and money before Liverpool can hope to challenge for the title. If he can secure Champions League football for next season, he will be doing well and because this campaign is so 'open' he might even do that.

Only Manchester City look like they have enough quality to put together a ten-game run which would probably win the title comfortably but they are flaky and there are clearly problems within the squad.

Not so long ago, any one of three or four clubs were capable of stringing together a series of wins and they did just that on a regular basis. Ferguson's Manchester United did it, often to devastating effect but Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal also had the capability.

I'm not sure any of the teams most people would have designated as Top Four before the season started are up to the task.

Much has been made of Arsenal's chances but I don't think they are a great deal different this season than any of the last three or four. All the old problems still exist

If Arsene Wenger does win the title, it will only be because everyone else has dropped below the standard set by his maddeningly inconsistent team.

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