Long gone are the days of the hegemony of the ‘Big Four’ in the Barclay’s Premier League – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. Of course, one cannot come to this conclusion on the basis of a single season thriving with uncertainty, but the expectations and norms of the top flight are tangibly eroding.
The success of a football team is constantly fluctuating, such is the mechanism of the league structure, but not as dramatically as this season. In October I wrote that the 2015/16 competition will be incredibly unpredictable, and week after week it is excitingly shaping up that way. I also recall hyping players that have underperformed and overlooking ones that have shined. Leicester City, who only a year ago were battling relegation under Nigel Pearson, have showed a remarkable string of performances that gives them a genuine shot at lifting the Premier League trophy. Tottenham have fought their way into the title race, too, finding form that has eluded them as seasons have gone by. The top-table positions of Chelsea, and arguably Manchester United, are no longer guaranteed. Punters are left scratching their heads at accumulators; it hasn’t been like this for years.
The financial inflation of modern football is difficult to accurately assess, but the money involved in securing the televised rights for future matches beginning in the 2016/17 season seems exorbitant at first glance – Sky and BT Sport have paid £4.2 billion and £960 million respectively. Swamping figures aside, it simply generates more capital for every club in the competition, opening up the possibilities of transfers, training facilities and more comprehensive scouting networks. Teams that vary on their goals and objectives for the season have more opportunity than ever to add strength to their squads.
But it isn’t all about the money. The fairy-tale story of the season has to be Leicester, whose actual value of their regular first-team costs less than £25 million, or an Adam Lallana, Pedro or Memphis Depay. It is comprised of players who have put in solid performances week after week, taking immense pressure in their stride and turning the odds after a pivotal 3-1 win at the Etihad in January. Jamie Vardy, whose string of goals earlier in the season broke Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s previously held feat of 10 goals in 10 games, was personally congratulated by the Dutch forward. His climb from grassroots football to Fleetwood Town striker to helping Leicester clinch promotion to the Premier League extends beyond commendation. He cost The Foxes a mere £1 million. The partnership with the bargain £400,000 Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez has championed all this season. If one was to say 12 months ago that Leicester would lift the trophy, you would most definitely be met with delusion.
Tottenham are breathing down Claudio Rainieri’s side, and that in itself is another story. Bitterly headlocked with Arsenal, Spurs have showed consistent displays, although these performances are not as surprising given their familiarity with Europa League ground. The recognisable efforts from Harry Kane and Dele Alli look promising for the future as English youngsters, but I’m carefully avoiding the malediction here. Newly-promoted Watford have aimed to cement their position towards the top half of the league, and West Ham have a look convincing for a finish in the top six. Crystal Palace and Stoke City fans have been excited by the development in the attacking aspects of their playing style.
The ‘Big Four’ have lost their unwieldiness at the top. Manchester City have evolved and taken Liverpool’s place for the time being. At least Arsenal can claim true a continuation in this territory. Anfield no longer hosts the world-class quality flaunted under the Rafael Benitez era anymore. Chelsea have to prove that they can bounce back next time round to winning ways or risk stagnation. Manchester United lack the creative edge that teams anywhere in the continent feared, leaving Old Trafford goalless on too many occasions. The smaller fish of the pond are putting up a worthy fight, and the waters of the Premier League are tremoring.