“The Premier League is becoming a joke league, with the top teams being so far ahead of the ones at the bottom. For them, its like they are accepting they are going to lose the game, as long as it’s only 1-0 or 2-0.” – The words spoken by ex Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher after witnessing Newcastle’s uninspiring offering against Manchester City last night
If we take Carragher’s comments under closer scrutiny just how much of a point does he have and does it perhaps ask the wider question that there is now too much fear in the Premier League. Quite simply once you reach the promised land of the English top flight and all of the riches that comes with it then the thought of falling out of the division is one that does not even bear thinking about in the minds of many club chairman and managers.
The problem that has now created is that we have a safety first approach to matches where teams will set themselves not to lose rather than have a go, with Newcastle’s efforts last night being the perfect example. Take Jonjo Shelvey’s kick off as a case in the point. he concedes possession of the ball by just lumping it clear so as to then straight away take his place in a very defensive setup.
Now the caveat here is that they are going up against Manchester City and they are steamrollering even the best teams at present so for a team like Newcastle to go toe to toe with them could be almost suicidal but at the same time where is the valour in saying “Well, at least we only lost by a single goal to the runaway league leaders”
And it is that attitude that is stifling the Premier League as a whole, it obviously hasn’t been helped by the fact that Pep Guardiola’s men are beating all and sundry this season but surely the teams at the bottom end of the table need to be doing their bit also. If you compare City’s previous win they beat a Bournemouth side 4-0 at the Etihad as Eddie Howe’s men setup in a 5-4-1 formation.
Now you can fully understand the Bournemouth mindset when playing away from home but there is no real excuse for Newcastle to be so defensive in front of their own fans especially when with a more positive outlook they could well have gained an advantage over all of the other teams in the bottom half of the table.
Due to the fact that Manchester City have beaten everyone bar Everton this season, even managing to earn a point at St James’ Park last night would have been a positive result. Who knows perhaps relegation could come down to a point come the end of the season and then you could look back and say ‘if only’
To be fair that is a large element of conjecture on my part as on the flipside they could have really had a go and been hit for four or five goals but this is the real issue in play here and that is the fact that pragmatism has got in the way of football as the chasm between the top two English divisions gets wider with each season.
If we take the bottom half of the table there are six points between Huddersfield in 11th and Bournemouth in 18th, to be fair to David Wagner’s men they have never really been mentioned in relegation circles so lets shift the sample group slightly and say from Stoke in 13th to Bournemouth in 18th there is just three points separating them.
Just a win which is the spread of points covering half a dozen teams at present as they continue to look over their shoulders at the pitfall that relegation would provide. It is so congested in that pack of clubs that it only takes two straight wins or losses to completely change the perspective of your season.
Teams seemed to be crippled by the thought of defeat at present, you only have to look at West Brom’s recent defeat to Manchester United at the Hawthorns. After going 2-0 down and with the game all but out of reach only then did Alan Pardew decide to take the shackles off and really have a go at the opposition.
The change in style rewarded them with a goal through Gareth Barry and that in turn set up something of a grandstand finish but at the end of the day it was too little too late as the late surge from the Baggies was in vain. Again had they had a go from the start they could have had a very different outcome and more importantly ended the barren run that they are still currently in.
Although Burnley have upset the apple cart slightly this season by in the top six at times you can all but draw a line between the big half dozen clubs and the rest, it is almost as if the quality of the other 14 teams and the position they are in is interchangeable each season with no real team doing their best to crack the mould on a permanent basis.
Look at Everton for example they spent the best part of £150m in the summer in a bid to break the top six and the best they can hope for is to match the 7th place finish of last season, ultimately they have spent a lot of money just to stand still and they have not even got their yet then again after their start to the campaign they can have few complaints with their current league standing.
Ultimately though two thirds of the Premier League will more often than not look at a meeting against a ‘Big Six’ side as something of a free hit and the kind of game that is not going to define their season, in essence we now have a league within a league where any meeting of two clubs between 7th and 20th is identified is where points will be won and survival will be earned.
Because of this the big six continue to get stronger and the rest just accept their place, happy to get 40 points and then hit the beach in March and April with the rest of the season becoming a dead rubber. So in my opinion the comments of Jamie Carragher are spot on but when there is so much to lose when it comes to relegation you can also understand why teams set up the way they do.