They call it the Champions League.
Back in the day when it was known as the European Cup, the only way one could qualify for it was by winning your domestic league. Well, those days are long gone and thanks to TV rights and UEFA we have a competition called the “Champions” League where teams that finish between positions one and four (even five in Liverpool’s case!) in their domestic league can qualify for this competition.
For the past six or seven seasons, there were four familiar faces that would qualify for the privilege of playing in the Champions League. Those teams were Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United and they typically did fairly well in reaching the last eight or quarter finals in most years.
However, that particular footballing hegemony has started to unravel of late.
In the 2011/12 season Manchester United have continued their dominant position and are challenging for the domestic title with their neighbours. Although they have dropped to the Europa League for this season and they have signed a “new” cryogenically preserved Paul Scholes, they will live to fight another day in the Champions League next year. Similarly, Manchester City are battling for the domestic title and with a large squad they should be able to qualify for next years Champions League, even if Mario Balotelli continues to operate in his own special mental place.
Tottenham Hotspur continue to impress with some good performances which sees them currently sitting pretty in third position. Hopefully, manager Harry Redknapp will be able to wriggle his way out of court and keep his job in order to guide Spurs to the Champions League once again.
The attention is thus focussed on the race for fourth place or, seeing as nobody among the chasing pack appears interested, it could actually be renamed the amble for fourth place.
Chelsea continue to endeavour with their GBP50 million experiment with a non-scoring striker. The last great similar experiment occurred at Liverpool when they purchased Emile Hesky for about GBP11 million. Perhaps Chelsea’s thinking is that “anything the Scousers can do, we can do more expensively”.
Then there is the Arsenal. After the “I’d 8-2 be an Arsenal fan” fiasco at the start of the season and languishing at the bottom of the league, the Gunners have regained some semblance of form and are among the challengers for fourth spot (or the league title if you believe Arsene Wenger). Their form (and goals) have mainly been down to the supreme goalscoring (and injury-free) Robin van Persie. Wenger maintains that both Arshavin and Walcott can still be converted into footballers, so let’s see how that experiment pans out. Arsenal also dipped into the transfer market and added the “new and improved” 2012 compliant version of Thierry Henry to their roster – a real confidence booster for Chamakh.
Having been written off prior to the start of the season, Newcastle United have emerged as a solid unit based on good defence at one end and Demba Ba at the other end. It will be interesting to see how they fare now that their red-hot striker is away with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations for the next month.
Twenty two years and counting, and Liverpool find themselves no closer to the Holy Grail of a Premier League title. The return of King Kenny as manager was met with widespread approval by the majority of the fans as was the backing he received from the club’s new owners at Fenway Sports Group. A lot of money was spent by the manager during the 2011 calendar year, but with the exception of the controversial Luis Suarez and possibly Charlie Adam the majority of the purchases have yet to repay the manager’s faith in buying them. Kenny Daglish must surely accept some of the blame for bringing in some average players, but the players themselves also need to stand up and be counted. Perhaps part of the problem with trying to create a winning culture at Liverpool is that a fair proportion of their current squad has not won any silverware during their time at the club. How then can they be expected to suddenly start winning?
One thing is certain – this Premiership season will be an entertaining one, and perhaps will have an unexpected combination of the top four come season end.