Friday, December 2, 2011

How Good is the EPL?

Post game, Penistone
Photo by Matthew Wilkinson on Flickr

Asks our friend, Columnist Ed:
Our friends at Zonal Marking closed an article on the Liverpool vs. Manchester City with the following damning remark:  Overall it was a stereotypical Premier League game – fast and frantic, but relatively little technical brilliance.” 

But is it true?  Do the best in the EPL lack the technical brilliance of the top teams in the other top leagues in Europe?  Let’s review:
With respect to Manchester United, one would have thought the team would be improved from last year with the additions they made.  They seemed to get smaller and quicker, losing only their goalkeeper and the aging Paul Scholes.  But now we’re starting to see just why Sir Alex was trying to move in Wesley Schneider.  They are simply lost in the middle of the pitch, with no creative talent – not Carrick or Anderson or Rooney – to call on.  Giggs, at about 38, is unbelievably the best option they have right now, but he’s just too old to be an impact player for 90 minutes.  Or even for thirty.  And how many times in the history of United could you say this?:  I’d takes Spurs midfield of Modric and Parker all day over anyone United can put out there right now.  Wow.  No midfield means a struggle in the Champions League and at times in the EPL.  And yes, a certain lack of technical ability.

How about the league leaders, the currently undefeated Manchester City?  I thought they would make a strong run in the Champions League.  But last week, they looked to be pretty much at the same level of a team that’s in seventh place in the Italian La Liga.  They lost that game 2-1, but it could have been worse.  Now their opponent, Napoli, does play a somewhat unusual formation together with a counter-attacking style, but really, how could the Italian Mancini not be ready for that?  Ultimately, City has top drawer talent with Sliva and Toure and Aguero, but to date Toure and Milner and Barry play as more or less blunt objects in the midfield, and Kompany and Prescott bring size more than they bring skill.

Chelsea have their own problems.  Their top tier player, Mata, looks downright slow in Champions League competition.  So does Lampard.  I just couldn’t see these two starting on Real Madrid or Barcelona or Inter Milan, could you?    
Arsenal also start a slow midfielder in Arteta, the Junior Varsity version of Cesc Fabregas.  Plus, the beautiful football that they used to play seems to have been abandoned these days.  Perhaps injuries and a lack of talent have forced them to play differently.  Ironically, though, despite Arsenal being the weakest of these EPL teams, they are performing the best of these EPL teams in the Champions League.

Dare I mention Spurs? Well their position and form suggests a high level of competence.  Plus they have a nice midfield and front line.  But their defense still stands on the rickety legs of Ledley King.

So what does all this negative talk mean?  Well, I think it comes to a few issues.  First, the top tier creative talent is scattered thinly around the EPL now.  There is only one Silva on City, and only one Modric on Spurs.  This is good for parity but not necessarily good for beautiful soccer.  Second, the top teams in the EPL are still largely direct play teams, as opposed to taking on the possession standards at Barca.  Perhaps this is due to the first point, but either way not even Arsenal is playing the possession game any more. 

All of that said, I think it's changing.  More and more of the small and fast players are having success in the league and are being picked up by a team.  Also, each year the Champions League becomes ever more important to the players, coaches and owners, and the pressure to succeed may ultimately force a change in tactics. 
But to bring this full circle, with all this in mind is the EPL any good?  Of course it is!  But despite my preseason thoughts to the contrary, this year may not be the EPL’s best.

This is farlieonfootie for December 2.

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