Ela­tion, heart­break and drama

> Why the Pre­mier League is un­ri­valled in world foot­ball

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY JIM HOLDEN

WOW, what a start to the Pre­mier League sea­son – and with a break for some pesky in­ter­na­tional fix­tures we have a mo­ment to catch our breath and mar­vel at a ti­tle race that looks thrillingly wide open.

Only one point be­tween the top four clubs af­ter 11 matches is surely vin­di­ca­tion of the view that our elite divi­sion is the most com­pet­i­tive in the world of foot­ball.

Who will cap­ture English sport’s great prize?

Well, it’s far too close to call when top spot in the ta­ble is con­stantly chang­ing hands, some­times twice in the same week­end.

Eleven games gone, al­most a third of the marathon, is long enough for some trends of bat­tle to be clear, yet with more than enough time for teams to rise from the flames or fall into the abyss.

Yes, I’m re­call­ing how it was 12 months ago – when the top four were all within a sin­gle point of each other as Eng­land lost 2-0 to Spain in a mid-Novem­ber friendly.

The clubs in­volved then were Manch­ester City, Manch­ester United, Le­ices­ter and Arse­nal.

It was the genesis of the most mag­i­cal fairy­tale tri­umph in the his­tory of English foot­ball, and the high­est point of a cam­paign that faded badly for the unin­spir­ing United team of Louis Van Gaal.

Sur­prised? I cer­tainly was. I didn’t ex­pect it when search­ing for a com­par­i­son with this sea­son amid the noisy hype that sur­rounds the so-called show­down of the su­per man­agers.

Ac­tu­ally, this time round, there are two points sep­a­rat­ing the top four, with United and Le­ices­ter re­placed among the con­tenders by Liver­pool and Chelsea.

Tottenham are fifth again, draw­ing a few too many matches, but look­ing likely.

Oh, and wouldn’t you know, Eng­land play Spain in a mid-Novem­ber friendly this week.

What’s the old proverb? The more things change, the more they stay the same. That was a favourite say­ing of Win­ston Churchill, and he knew a thing or two about the tides of his­tory.

There is an­other echo from last sea­son; the re­luc­tance of all the top bosses, just like Clau­dio Ranieri a year ago, to de­clare their clubs as po­ten­tial ti­tle win­ners.

It worked for the Le­ices­ter mae­stro, and the in­tel­li­gence of Jur­gen Klopp, An­to­nio Conte and Pep Guardi­ola is plain in their ret­i­cence.

What is dif­fer­ent now, what ex­hil­a­rates and lifts the spir­its, is the in­crease in sheer qual­ity of foot­ball and the com­mit­ment to at­tack­ing play by clubs like Liver­pool, Chelsea and Manch­ester City.

Last year Liver­pool had scored 12 goals in their open­ing 11 games. This time it is 30 as the whirl­wind Klopp style has taken full ef­fect.

Chelsea’s tac­ti­cal switch to 3-4-3 un­der Conte has seen them blos­som into a dev­as­tat­ing force when go­ing for­ward, wit­ness the 5-0 thrash­ing of Ever­ton in their most re­cent out­ing.

When City play at their mes­meris­ing best, the carousel foot­ball de­manded by Guardi­ola has been the finest sight to be­hold this sea­son.

Arse­nal and Spurs are also en­ter­tain­ing teams, easy on the eye, set up to at­tack and chase goals.

All five of these clubs are clearly gen­uine ti­tle con­tenders, and even­tual glory for any of them would not sur­prise me.

Which leaves us with Manch­ester United – the team, to use an­other favourite phrase of Churchill, who are a rid­dle, wrapped in a mys­tery, in­side an enigma.

United im­ported a cel­e­brated new man­ager in Jose Mour­inho, broke the world trans­fer record last sum­mer, spent a whop­ping £158mil­lion on play­ers to fund a proper chal­lenge – and yet they lan­guish far below their ex­cel­lent start to last sea­son.

Mour­inho ap­pears dis­tracted at times, has be­gun to alien­ate play­ers, and in the past few days has let it be known that he wants an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into all af­fairs of the first team and a change of cul­ture at the club. I don’t doubt that is re­quired. David Moyes felt just the same when he was man­ager at Old Traf­ford, but wasn’t given the time to make the se­ri­ous al­ter­ations he felt were nec­es­sary.

The truth won’t be a shield for Mour­inho to hide be­hind – not when there is so much flair and style and fun else­where.

His team are still within range of the lead­ers, and of course they can climb into con­tention given the qual­ity of their squad.

But will they? The his­tory of the vast ma­jor­ity of his phe­nom­e­nal ca­reer says United should rise again. The les­son of last year says not. – Ex­press News­pa­pers

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