Premier League Season Review:
Written by: D.J. Switzer @ Wrong Side of the Pond
Most things in life are cyclical in nature, where periods of normalcy are interrupted by periods of change. Some periods might be longer or even permanent, while others are short and fleeting. The rise and fall of the stock market, the warming and cooling of the earth, and even Real Madrid’s or Barcelona’s dominance of La Liga are all prime examples of the eras within these cycles that we see come and go. Each has a beginning, and each has its end.
When thinking about the 2011/2012 Premier League Season, it’s easy to wonder if we might be at the beginning of a new era in the English top flight. Looking at the league table with just a week’s worth of fixtures left to play, that could very well be the case.
Manchester City’s lavish spending over the last few years appears on the verge of finally coming good, as they’re in pole position to supplant their neighbors as champions for their first league title since 1968. Manchester United — the most dominant side in the Premier League era — are likely to fall just short thanks to their own transitional period at the club. Supposing the Citizens secure three points at QPR this weekend, they’ll be the first side outside the traditional “Big Four" clubs to win the title since Blackburn Rovers also bought their way to the title in 1994.
Speaking of the “Big Four”, the sun might also be setting on the phrase itself, now that two of its traditional members are almost guaranteed to finish outside the coveted top four places. Liverpool are not only a lock to end up sub-fourth for the second season running, but they’ll also finish in their lowest league position since 1953 — the last time they were relegated. Most likely joining them in mid-table mediocrity is fellow mega club Chelsea. Just two seasons removed from winning the title, the Blues only hope of Champions League football next season will be to focus all of their energy into upsetting Bayern in the final on May 19th. Regardless, expect their American and Russian owners to open their pocketbooks in the summer to reclaim their “rightful” places near the top.
Ahead of them lies a dogfight for the final two Champions League places between Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. North London rivals Spurs and Arsenal have each had contrasting mini-cycles within this season itself, with one side in fine form while the other’s in the pits. While the Gunners are accustomed to being in these places, Spurs are hoping to gate crash the top four for the second time in three seasons. That will only happen if Tottenham can revive their early season form to fend off a challenge from a surprise Newcastle side. Having just exited a relegation-induced dark cycle of their own, the Magpies rebuilt on the cheap and have ridden the Ba/Cissé wave to heights far higher than was expected. Though qualifying for Europe’s top competition might also be the only way that owner Mike Ashley won’t sell off most of the side’s star performers in the summer.
At the foot of the table, things appear to be changing as well. For the first time since 2001/2002, all of the promoted sides stand a good chance of avoiding a quick return to the Championship. Barring a series of miracles, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers will likely join already relegated Wolves in the drop, with Queens Park Rangers being the only one of the new boys that could take the fall instead. Meanwhile, fellow newcomers Swansea City and Norwich City have proven that you can play attractive football on a limited budget and still survive. Swansea in particular — also bearing the flag as the first Welsh side to ever play in the Premier League — have bucked the “ugly and direct ensures survival” trend, and will undoubtedly serve as a template for promoted sides to emulate in this new era in the league.
Of course, depending on results this week, all of the above could end up being complete rubbish. If City drop points and United don’t, then the Red Devils will defend their crown. Should Chelsea somehow win both their fixtures and the Gunners and Spurs lose, then the Blues could rejoin the top four. QPR could easily go down if Bolton win away to Stoke, thus seeing a promoted club relegated for the 11th straight season. And if all that does happen, we may not be nearing the end of an era at all.
So whether this season actually does mark the end of one era and the beginning of another, or if it’s just a one-off abnormality, only time will tell. In the mean time, I look forward to enjoying the beautiful game’s natural ebb and flow. After all, next season could be the start of another era of its own.
What do you think? Is this the end of an era….or the start of another?
D.J. Switzer is the writer behind the American footie blog Wrong Side of the Pond. A two-time All-Region player at Div. III power Ohio Northern, D.J. resides in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and continues to play as much as his surgically repaired knee — and wife — allows. You can follow him @wrongsideofpond.