The Libero - Five reasons to look forward to 2011
Published: 29 Dec 2010 - 10:47:14
Christmas has been and gone and 2011 looms large. With the dawn of a new year there is always a certain degree of anticipation, but this time there is a palpable sense of excitement.
Why? Because this season's Premier League race promises to be one of the best yet. Heading into tonight's final fixtures of 2010, the league table has a wonderfully refreshing look to it, albeit with usual suspects Manchester United on top of the pile.
But neighbours City have already dallied with top spot and currently lie in second, just ahead of Arsenal, whose own local rivals and latest member of the Champions League crowd Tottenham occupy fourth.
So-called 'Big Four' team Liverpool are nowhere to be seen - for the moment - and Chelsea, well, Chelsea could even end the year in sixth place, should the defending champions lose to surprise package Bolton tonight.
So what have we to thank for what promises to be a terrific second half of the season? Let's take a look at five reasons at the root of why the Premier League will be even more enthralling than usual over the next five months.
1. Roman Abramovich's trigger finger
Chelsea's defeat to Arsenal over the festive period has put Carlo Ancelotti in real danger of losing his job. He has even been labelled a dead man walking in some quarters - which may or may not turn out to be an accurate assessment of the situation.
But what is certain is that Abramovich is not known for his patience and the Blues recent run of form, which has seen them take just six points from their last eight games, will surely test the Russian to his limit.
With the threat of the axe now hanging over him, one of two things can happen. Either Ancelotti will buck his ideas up, pull himself and his team out of the slumber he has blamed their recent form on, and instigate a remarkable turnaround that will save both his team's season and his job.
Or, the axe will fall and Chelsea will end up with nothing. Either way, it's a sensational story, and one well worth following.
Agree with the methodology or not, there can be no denying that the cash pumped into Manchester City by their mega-rich Arab owners has shaken up the Premier League.
With the kind of outlay that has left the Eastlands coffers comes a requirement for success, but the Sheiks have so far been patient with Roberto Mancini. And that faith may well be about to pay off.
The January sales are nearly upon us once again, and who knows what role City are going to play? Guaranteed to end the year level on points with the league leaders, City have managed to get themselves into a great position from which to strike gold in the second half of season - all thanks to the petro-pound.
Well, not just Bolton, but rather teams like Bolton. Unassuming, unfashionable and far from wealthy, but bloody difficult to beat - as the top clubs have found out to their cost this season.
Bolton, along with West Brom, Sunderland and Birmingham, have all taken points off United this season. The latter pair have also beaten Chelsea, while West Brom have beaten Arsenal. Sunderland have also held the Gunners to a draw.
These teams, and their refusal to lie down, roll over and have their bellies tickled by their more illustrious opponents have largely been responsible for a more even look to the league table so far this season. And it would take a brave man to bet against there being more upsets before the destination of the title is settled.
4. The World Cup
Another great leveller so far this season has been the World Cup - or rather the hangovers suffered by some of those who went to South Africa with their national sides.
Take Wayne Rooney for example. United, despite their lofty position, have been half the team they were last season, purely because Rooney has failed to recover from his World Cup malaise.
Fernando Torres too has been a shadow of his former self after having been taken to South Africa when he clearly was not fit enough. Chelsea have suffered without Frank Lampard, who played a full part in England's abysmal campaign and suffered an injury at club level soon after.
Nor can Robin van Persie's involvement for Holland during the summer have helped his injury-hit domestic season for Arsenal. And with the season not about to end any time soon, how many more star-names will become conspicuous by their enforced absences?
5. Wheeler dealers
Well, just one actually, not that he wants to be known as one. Harry Redknapp has proved adept in the transfer market over the years, but it is his skills as a man manager that have given the Premier League a kick up the jacksie of late.
His guiding of Tottenham to fourth place last season was memorable enough, but instead of resting on his laurels this time out, he has simply built of that success and Spurs are now an even better side. Ask Italian giants Internazionale; they should know.
Hanging on the coattails of their North London rivals Arsenal heading into 2011, Redknapp could yet improve on last season's efforts - and at the very least, make the run in to the end of the Premier League season a far more interesting affair than usual.
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- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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