No matter how your favorite Premier League team is faring at the moment, you have to admit that the current season is interesting and loaded with drama.
The two great stories are traditional powers floundering with the underachieving clubs turning out great results and the managers of top sides losing their jobs or seem to be on the verge of getting axed. Regarding the latter, that’s nothing unusual because of the pressure to win and their big wages.
Following the Boxing Day results, the results confirmed the nature of this most improbable season. Unlikely Leicester City atop the league with 38 points, two ahead of second place Arsenal (shocking 4-0 losers to Southampton and missing a huge chance to leap into first spot) despite its December 26 loss to inconsistent Liverpool, 1-nil.
Manchester City is third, while Tottenham is fourth. Manchester United, the gold standard for Premier League squads, is in sixth spot after absorbing a fourth straight loss, this one a 2-nil loss to Stoke City.
Where is Chelsea and Liverpool in the standings? The latter is at eighth place having just arrested a shocking skid after being bloodied in the nose by Watford, held to a 2-2 draw by West Brom and a loss to Newcastle, 2-0.
West Brom is at 13th, while Newcastle is in the relegation zone at 18th. Another Premier League fixture, Aston Villa, is dead last in the 20-team league with only eight points accrued from 20 fixtures. They look to be relegated should their free fall continue.
Chelsea is at 15th spot and hovering above the relegation zone and 20 points adrift of first place in the standings.
Watford, one of those less popular clubs is at seventh having drawn Chelsea and surviving a late penalty kick awarded to the Blues that they flubbed. The week before, they dealt Liverpool a crushing, 3-nil shellacking. Last November, they also defeated Aston Villa, 3-2.
Stoke City, currently at 11th, dealt the two Manchester squads identical 2-0 defeats in the space of three weeks.
West Brom’s best results this season were its 2-1 win over Arsenal and its draw against Liverpool.
Bournemouth, newly promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their 69-year history, fashioned some huge wins over Chelsea (1-0) and Manchester United (2-1) and a 3-3 draw against Everton. They are currently at 14th spot.
Taking at look at four clubs — Leicester, Stoke, Watford and Bournemouth — they averaged L46.5 million in wages -- half the amount paid by the top five big spending English clubs (Man City, Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool). Despite West Ham being a small club, they technically aren’t because they are one of the five London-based Premier League sides and have been in the Premier League for some time. The aforementioned four sides have been either in the top flight a few years ago or newly-promoted.
Further to the funds available, the money the small clubs have on hand for the transfer window averages a paltry L12.7 million.
The success of the small clubs (and we haven’t even mentioned the upsets of Norwich City) has been due to several factors — smart football minds running the show, strong defensive midfielders and back fours, and underrated but incredible attacking threats.
Smart football minds
Stoke has had two very good managers. Tony Pulis for several years before the even more shrewd Mark Hughes took over last season and rebuilt his reputation after a disastrous spell with Queens Park Rangers.
Leicester brought Italian Claudio Ranieri who had the smarts to keep some of the previous coaching staff’s assistants for some continuity.
Bournemouth’s journey is even more incredible as twice in their history have they come back from bankruptcy to be promoted. The Cherries, as they are known, have received some money (a paltry L25 million in the last three years) from their new Russian owner Max Demin and some of these investments such as in their sports science and video support that is vastly underrated. Both have helped their players perform much better. The front office has managed the influx of money by bringing in smart and sound players, some of who have come in as free transfers. One such is Polish goalkeeper Art Boruc. Midfielder Matt Ritchie from Swindon Town and South African Tokelo Rantie from small Italian side Malmo.
The top two goalkeepers in the Premier League at the moment are Stoke’s Jack Butland and Watford’s Heurelho Gomes.
Leicester features a strong back four and a compact midfield. Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores builds his game behind a strong back four that likes to hit on counter attacks.
Both have eight clean sheets yet Butland has 73 saves to Gomes’ 52.
New names for attacking threats
Leicester has the duo of Jamie Vardy (league-leading 15 goals) and Riyad Mahrez (tied at second with two others with 13 goals). Stoke has the trio of Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic, and Xherdan Shaqiri. Watford has Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.
Bournemouth plays a pass-and-go offense yet will need an even bigger scoring stud upfront as they have only 22 goals against 32 conceded. Callum Wilson has only five goals; a poor ratio of a goal per 108 minutes played.
Following Leicester’s 1-nil loss to Liverpool, their second of the season and their first shut out, there’s talk that they have lost steam and will fall by the wayside. Wherever they finish, the same goes to the small clubs, they will have given this season a memorable flavor.
Oh, hey… all of a sudden that Leicester City shop in the heart of Bangkok (just outside the Siam Paragon mall along Rama I Road) is getting swamped with new fans. That’s pretty good too, right?