Manchester duopoly: EPL becoming SPL?
Sunday, August 28: Manchester 13 – North London 3. Two games, and two extraordinary scorelines.
Manchester City opened the northern rout by demolishing a Tottenham side looking devoid of creativity or passion, beset in the prolonged saga of Chelsea’s constant overtures to Luka Modric – a transfer that in the end never even came to fruition.
The gap in class that opened up over the course of the English summer, between what were the fourth and fifth-placed finishers in the Premier League last season, was a sight for all to see, and the ease with which Edin Dzeko poached three goals for City before driving in a stunning fourth was ominous for the 19 other clubs in England’s top flight.
Fast forward a couple of hours, and that other Manchester club infuriated its neighbours by upping the ante and producing an even more incredible display at home against Arsenal.
Admittedly, the Gunners’ defensive display was awful, but the fluidity and speed with which United zipped about the Old Trafford pitch was just brilliant.
Everybody played their part; not least Wayne Rooney, who looks as if he really is back to his charging, furious best. Ashley Young’s flying performance on the wing made it feel as though he had been at United his whole career, while the other new signing, Phil Jones, belied his youthful 19 years with a commanding display in defence.
His strong performance earned a well-deserved call up from Fabio Capello for England’s upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers.
But taking a step away from these two displays of power from Manchester’s clubs, and there are more worrying signs for the English Premier League as a whole.
Over the years, observers have hailed the EPL as being a relative haven of competitiveness – with a grand total of four clubs pushing for the title – away from the predictability of Scotland’s Old Firm, or La Liga’s annual clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But on the evidence of last weekend, it seems something similar is starting to take place in England. Most critics favour United to retain their trophy (and if they do, it will be their fifth title win in six years), but they place City a close second, with other ‘big four’ clubs and assorted rivals falling well behind.
Arsenal and Tottenham clearly don’t have the squads to launch a title challenge, and while constantly improving under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool will be surely be content to reclaim a place in the top four rather than pushing for the title.
The only serious contender to Manchester’s duopoly this term is Chelsea – on whom the jury is out so far this season. After an underwhelming draw against Stoke on the opening day of the season, the Blues improved with wins against West Bromwich and Norwich.
Only a more searching fixture – their trip to Old Trafford on September 18 springs to mind – will give a better indication of where Andre Villas-Boas’ team is at in relation to the big title rivals.
It is, of course, early days in the Premier League season. But if last weekend’s form continues for the two northern clubs, the other 18 look set to be in for a long and dispiriting nine months.