This season’s Premier League promises to be one of the toughest and most competitive in many years, with just six points separating 5th place and 18th.
This change is leading to an increased focus on attack and managers being more willing to take risks against the top sides.
Sunderland’s 3-0 victory at Chelsea on Sunday was not just the performance of the season, but it is also an explanation of the changing nature of the Barclays Premier League, as the division becomes congested outside of the European positions by increasing numbers of defensive sides.
Sunderland’s approach is the result of the increasingly competitive nature of the league, and the growing number of teams whose goal is ‘not to lose.’ Taking the game to the opposition is now the way to compete in the Premier League. Even good sides like Stoke and Blackburn are finding themselves languishing dangerously close to the relegation zone as the result of their tactics – tight defences and a ‘we shall not be beaten’ attitude.
A perfect example of the pitfalls of such a mentality is Birmingham City, who find themselves in the bottom three today, in 18th place on 13 points, despite an impressive 0-0 draw at Manchester City on Sunday. In the opposite side of the table lie Bolton Wanderers, a side of similar abilities and quality, in 5th place, with 19 points.
With just six points separating Bolton and Birmingham, most sides in between those two are just one win away from climbing half the league, or a defeat away from falling into the relegation zone. This is the result of increasing numbers of sides whose goal is to survive. Lead by determined coaches such as Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis, these teams bring with them the attitude of these figures. As a result, there are increasing numbers of draws and fewer victories overall in the Premier League than in the past.
But what happens when most teams in the bottom half are happy not to lose, as long as they somehow survive at the end of the season? They can’t all survive. Sooner or later, they will drop back into the Championship. . We now see more teams like this, such as West Brom or Newcastle who have come into the Premier League and realised that to survive they can’t simply settle for just avoiding relegation. To replicate the formula of Stoke, who have adapted to life in the Premiership successfully, would be a risk too far, with Stoke only just hovering above the relegation zone most of the time anyway.
As the season goes on, we’re likely to see some teams breaking away from this pact, for a start Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham, who are better than the other sides in this increasingly conjested region of the table. Other teams like Sunderland and West Brom may be able to break away from the rest due to their attacking mentality and willingness to go for the jugular. But of the others, they will remain within a few points of each other, with a large number of teams likely to be battling against relegation late into the season. The teams who survive are likely to be those who decide to take a risk, and go for the win rather than settle for the draw.
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