Manchester City are running away with the Premier League title. That is terrible news for football – although it wasn’t when Liverpool did it.
The truth Hurst
Is this the most Sun front page ever?
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) March 2, 2021
A ‘campaign’ that few have actually asked for, never mind from ‘THE PEOPLE’S PAPER’?
An ‘exclusive’ interview with someone they speak to really quite often?
An incredibly laboured reference to 1966?
A random PhotoShop of the European Championship trophy to replace the World Cup?
A mention of ‘the Germans’?
A copious use of the word ‘footie’?
Check, check, check, check, check and very much check in this, the year of our lord 2021. Even leaving aside the moral questions posed by pushing to host a major international tournament to “recapture” a 55-year-old “spirit” during a global pandemic on the back of a couple of months of positive vaccination news at a time when the daily death toll still exceeds 300, that is pretty special.
The best line in that story has to be this:
‘Sir Geoff said staging this summer’s European championships here would bring joy to the country’s pandemic-hit footie fans.’
Therein lies a slight problem: ‘joy’ is not the only thing it might bring.
Writes Martin Blackburn in The Sun:
‘GABRIEL JESUS got the party started as Manchester City hit 21 last night.
‘And could his late contribution prove to be the key to the door for Pep Guardiola’s men to regain their Premier League crown?
‘The champagne looked set to stay on ice with City’s incredible 20 match winning streak poised to end on 20 when Conor Coady equalised for Wolves in the second half.’
As important and welcome as they were, it doesn’t really feel as though those goals were ‘the key to the door’ to the title, nor that ‘the champagne looked set to stay on ice’ if Manchester City only went 13 points clear instead of 15.
But the hottest Manchester City take of all comes in the Daily Telegraph, courtesy of one Luke Edwards:
‘It is not something anyone at Manchester City will be fretting about as they close in on their fifth Premier League title in nine years, yet is there an argument to be made that English football is in danger of becoming too predictable at the top end?’
Perhaps. That argument is slightly undermined by Leicester and West Ham sitting third and fourth, only one team managing to retain the title this past decade and this ‘dangerous’ and ‘predictable’ dominance from Manchester City coming a) the season after they finished 18 points behind champions Liverpool and b) barely 100 days after they sat 13th in the table following a chastening defeat to Tottenham which caused many to question Pep Guardiola’s future. But it can be made.
‘That would certainly be true if City go on to win an unprecedented quadruple this season…’
Can an ‘unprecedented’ event prove something to be ‘predictable’?
‘…but there are those of us who are already worried by the prospect of another title effectively being decided in March.’
Well the last title that was ‘effectively decided’ in March was handily last year, when City were literally 25 points behind Liverpool heading into the enforced break. Was anyone ‘worried by the prospect’ of years of their dominance then? Certainly not in the media.
On March 1, 2019, Liverpool led the league by one point ahead of City.
On March 1, 2018, City led the league by 16 points ahead of Manchester United.
On March 1, 2017, Chelsea led the league by ten points ahead of Tottenham.
On March 1, 2016, Leicester led the league by three points ahead of Tottenham.
On March 1, 2015, Chelsea led the league by five points ahead of City.
On March 1, 2014, Chelsea led the league by four points ahead of Liverpool.
On March 1, 2013, United led the league by 12 points ahead of City.
Mediawatch is struggling to recall similar pieces being published in 2020, 2017 or 2013 about the ‘worrying’ prospect of certain teams that are too dominant in English football. How strange that it only happened in 2018 and now 2021.
‘Watching City outclass Wolves was the latest alarm bell to ring. It is not that City find it easy, because they work incredibly hard. They are just so good.’
If a football team being ‘just so good’ causes ‘the latest alarm bell to ring’ for you as a football journalist then, with the greatest of respect, you might be in the wrong job.
‘It may seem counter-intuitive to complain about City making this race a boring one when they finished 19 points behind Liverpool last time around, and questions were being asked in the autumn about Guardiola’s appetite to continue as they languished in the bottom half of the table.’
‘But it is a worry for English football. Or it should be, because the unique selling point of the Premier League, the core value of the brand if you like, is the idea that, at the start of every season, at least three or four teams start with title ambitions and perhaps as many as ten consider European qualification an achievable target.’
Five different teams have won the Premier League title in the last eight seasons. Leicester were champions five years ago. Juventus have lifted the Serie A nine times in succession, Bayern Munich have won eight consecutive Bundesligas, PSG have won seven of the last eight Ligue Un championships and three different teams have won La Liga since 2004.
The Premier League’s precious ‘unique selling point’ seems pretty safe when this season has seen a record nine teams go top for at least a week.
‘Maybe that holds true with the European places, but in terms of the title, we have had two clubs turn it into a one-horse-race from the halfway stage, two years running. They were different teams, true, but it is not great for entertainment or excitement levels when you effectively know who are going to be champions before the spring flowers have bloomed.’
So why was this point not made last year when Liverpool were ten points further clear of the next closest team than Manchester City are now?
‘But the really troubling thing is that City are the only club over the last few years who have been consistent in challenging for the main prize. They will have finished first or second four years running in May.’
Well sort of. That last line is fair enough but a team that finished 18 points off the championship pace a season ago cannot be described as ‘consistent in challenging for the main prize’ over four years.
So sure, ‘the rest of us are entitled to raise a wider point’ and ‘there is no apology for asking whether this is a healthy state of affairs,’ while ‘we should be able to query whether it is a good thing for the game as a whole’. But forgive Mediawatch and many others for wondering where this all was when Manchester United were winning eight of the first 11 Premier League titles.
Speaking of which…
‘Manchester United dominated English football for the best part of two decades under the management and wider leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, but they were constantly challenged, whether it was Arsenal or Chelsea. And they rarely, if ever, cantered to the title as City have done.’
One might suggest that Liverpool challenged them quite regularly over the past couple of years and threatened to do the same this season before being ravaged by injuries.
Plus the most cursory glance shows United finished ten points clear in 1992/93, 18 clear in 1999/2000 (a record that stood for two decades), ten clear in 2000/01 and 11 clear in 2012/13. But no, ‘they rarely, if ever, cantered to the title as City have done’.
‘Nobody ever queried whether that was a good thing when United did it, though, and those wishing to defend City, will insist that it is too early to say City are going to crush all before them next season when this one is still to be concluded. But it does look ominous.’
Nobody ever insisted that it was a bad thing either. And the last time people starting to forecast that ‘City are going to crush all before them’ on the back of one dominant season, they were pushed to the absolute limit by Liverpool the following year before swept away 12 months later.
‘City are the dominant force in English football, that is no longer a matter for debate. Whether they are in danger of becoming too dominant, though, is worthy of wider discussion.’
So long as that discussion is brief, includes explanations as to why no-one ‘worried’ about Liverpool’s far more pervasive dominance in the 1970s and 1980s or Manchester United’s in the 1990s and 2000s, and ends when someone mentions Leicester in 2016 or Liverpool in 2020, then absolutely. But while you panic about a brilliant football team being brilliant, forgive us for enjoying it.
The Daily Mirror know precisely what they’re doing with a headline of ‘Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s warning to Paul Pogba as Man Utd star nears injury return’.
They realise Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ‘warning’ anyone is news. They understand that anyone ‘warning’ Paul Pogba is bigger news. They recognise that a combination of the two is a veritable click goldmine.
Then you see the quote in question and can only marvel at how they got from point A to point B.
“He’s working really hard and he knows when he gets back, we haven’t got two or three games to give him time to play himself into form, so he’s working hard.”
That is even more stark a caution than the other Solskjaer ‘warning’ elsewhere on the same website: that Manchester United “have to be realistic and responsible” in the transfer market during a global pandemic.
Contradictory headline of the day
‘Man Utd fear Phil Jones will miss rest of season with long-term knee injury having not played since January 2020’
Can you ‘fear’ the continued absence of someone who has been continually absent for 15 months?
And on that note…
To complete the Solskjaer misguided ‘warning’ hat-trick, it’s over to the MailOnline…
‘Phil Jones could miss the ENTIRE season due to a long-term knee injury after another setback, warns Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Manchester United defender last playing in January 2020’
Jones has played 562 minutes of first-team football since August 2019. It would probably be more fitting to warn people when he is about to feature rather than confirm that he won’t at this stage.