Three’s a Crowd
By Andy Taylor.
So, the weekend has finished and the big four – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United – have all been in action, but, the big four became the big three a few months ago. Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd are now a big-three, Liverpool dropped off the pace long ago, and like the Spanish Armada, they are starting to sink without trace.
Rafa has brought a large Spanish contingent into the Merseyside club but only a small minority have made the grade. They sold Xabi Alonso to Real in the summer which was one of the biggest mistakes they could have made. Now the entire club revolves around two players, Gerrard and Torres, take either out of the equation and they are a very, very ordinary side. Aqulani has not had a chance to fully prove himself in the Premier League yet, and gets mysteriously left on the bench while the likes of Lucas starts. I heard a summariser on the radio the other day stating that Lucas had had his best match in a Liverpool shirt in the previous match. A caller rang in and told the presenter that Lucas hadn’t been playing in the game; ‘Exactly’ came the response. Lucas is not Liverpool standard, he never has been and I very much doubt he ever will.
Although Liverpool started well against Manchester United with an incisive early goal, like so many times this season they fell away while United never seemed to get out of second gear, slicing through Liverpool at will. If Rafa does stay at Liverpool in the summer there will need to be wholesale changes made to put themselves back on the right track. That is if they still have Torres and Gerrard, now that fourth place is looking like a distant dream. Man City, Tottenham and Villa, all have games in hand on them and superior points. At they end of the season Liverpool could easily find themselves in seventh or eighth position and losing players who only want to play on the biggest stages. Mourinho has been touted as a possible replacement for Benitez in the summer, but surely there is too much to do at Anfield even for the “Special One”.
While Chelsea slipped up at Blackburn, Manchester United calmly and quietly went about their usual business, dispatching the opposition with what seemed like ease. Season after season United always seem to come good on the home stretch: they get into their groove and are clinical with their dispatching of the opposition. Rooney, Park, Fletcher, Nani and Valencia are all moving to the top of their game, and like the Manchester United of old the free-flowing, incisive football is making them the clear favourites for a record breaking 19th League Title. All Arsenal and Chelsea can do now is wait and hope for United to slip up, something that few can see happening. As for Chelsea, the game at Old Trafford on the 3rd April will probably make or break their season – win and they’re still in with a shout of the glory; lose and Ancellotti may find himself looking for another job come the end of the season.
Chelsea’s problem at the minute may be the off field antics of Cole and Terry that seem to be distracting the other players, and grabbing the headlines that should be reserved for the way they they play on the field instead of off it. The age of their squad is also a concern for Chelsea fans; Lampard, Ballack, Terry Cole etc are all the wrong side of thirty or coming very close to the big three 0. They don’t seem to have the same sort of youth set up that Arsenal and Manchester United. There are very few these days coming up through the ranks, which gives the players the same sort of drive and passion for the club that John Terry has. The answer seems to have been to throw money at players who come for the big wages but have no connection with the club or the fans. Liverpool has Carragher and Gerrard and United still have Giggs, Scholes, Evans, O’Shea, Fletcher, Neville, Brown, Wellbeck, Gibson, who have all come through the youth system. United is in their blood, it’s a way of life for them. Thats what Chelsea are missing now and after their recent stumble I think they may have to settle for third spot.
Arsenal have now got their youth and experience to mix together well, after many wrote them off midway through the season. They play good (sometimes great), quick-passing football that can see them from one end of the field to the other before the opposition can blink. Yes they still have one eye on the Champions League as do Manchester United, but while United have the experience in all competitions, Arsenal’s hunger for success will push them to finish second in the league. It’s been too long without silverware for Arsenal and Wenger.
So while Liverpool try and stop the rot, the undisputed big four have become the big three. Chelsea and Liverpool will have big rebuilding jobs in the summer with too many players, content to just turn up for their mega wages. This time next season it may be the big two but I doubt it. This will be one of the most exciting run-ins for years – how Liverpool fans will be kicking themselves for not being a part of it. Just for the record though, I think Tottenham will snatch the coveted fourth spot and Harry Redknapp deserves it. The season is coming to a head. This is why we love football, and the big three.
Have the ‘big-four’ now become the ‘big-three’? Please leave your comments below……