Week 27 in the English Premier League is drawing to a close, and one thing is becoming crystal clear…Manchester United are playing their best soccer at the right time.
After an inexplicable 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton on February 5th, the Red Devils downed arch rival, and my EPL team of choice, Manchester City, 2-1, and following two FA Cup and UEFA Champions League games, they throttled Wigan, 4-0 on Saturday to go 4 points clear of second place Arsenal with 11 games to play. A Tuesday match against London powerhouse, Chelsea, looms for United, but given the woes the Blues have endured this season, a lot of the luster will be missing as Chelsea currently sits in 5th place, a full 15 points behind United, even though they have a game in hand.
At the time of this blog, Arsenal is currently tied with Birmingham, 1-1, at halftime of their 28th EPL match. An Arsenal win would pull them to within 2 points of first place United, yet they do have a game in hand with United having played 27 games. Arsenal has used a mix of very talented young players sprinkled with a few veterans to make the only real run at United’s quest for a 19th league title. City is third, yet their 49 points make them a distant third, leaving Arsenal as the lone team that could ruin what could be United’s record-breaking run.
Since we’re discussing my Man City team, let me say this..I’m noticing a trend among teams that I root for in sports. It’s a disturbing trend, because of the teams that I pull for to win, City ranks right up there with the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Capitals, as team that are loaded with talent, yet continue to under achieve. I’m starting to wonder if maybe, it’s me. Underachieving is the best way to describe those three of my favorites. Hell, you could even throw the Maryland Terrapins into that group even though they don’t have the level of talent that the other three do, Maryland always seems to do just enough to not do enough. If that makes any sense. Over the past few seasons, the Ravens, Caps, and Man City have all been sexy picks to win their respective league titles, only to fall short of their high expectations.
City hosted a Fulham team today at the City of Manchester Stadium, that in no way contains the talent that City does. American forward Clint Dempsey notwithstanding, Fulham is a lower tier team whose 32 points is only good enough for 13th in the table. Yet, they were able to gain a road draw against a much better City team, their league leading 14th of the season, and hold City to one goal in the process. Pathetic. One goal against a team that’s about 3 steps beneath you is unacceptable. Period. Yet week in and week out, Manchester City underachieves and plays down to their level of competition. Hmmmm, sound familiar Ravens’ fans?
Liverpool has long been an EPL giant. One of the fabled “Big Four” of the late 1990’s-early 2000’s (along with United, Arsenal, and Chelsea), Liverpool’s 18 total league titles currently ranks as tops alongside Manchester United. All that being said, Liverpool’s 2010-11 campaign has been mired in underachieving, injuries, and front office turmoil. They currently sit 6th in the table, yet their 11-6-11 record is a far cry from recent seasons when they were battling until the final weeks for the championship. And today, while visiting lowly West Ham United, Liverpool was dropped, 3-1, which in soccer terms, is akin to a rout. It’s kind of a shame to see Liverpool fall the way that they have, only because they are a team that has some of the best fans in the EPL, and isn’t a team like Arsenal or Chelsea that you love to hate. A lot of their problems can be tied to the World economy and the need to save money, but the team they put out onto the pitch is filled with talent and should be doing better then 6th place.
With only about 11-12 games remaining in the season, now is the time when teams are either going to be trying to stay above the relegation zone, positing themselves for European tournament play, or making a run at the league title, which is quickly becoming a two horse race.