Tottenham’s first victory at Old Trafford in 23 years was a watershed for the North Londoners, and it could be too for the Premier League, with this season’s title race shaping up deliciously after the weekend’s action.
Manchester United and Manchester City were the two sides everyone expected to lead the charge for the title at the start of the season but there have been few indications so far that they will run away from the rest of the pack. The most interesting thing about Manchester United’s defeat to Tottenham was that they were not just beaten by a smash and grab – they were outplayed by a better team.
That was the story the weekend previously too, when Liverpool had the edge on United but were outdone by the wiliness of Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. There is little doubt that United have the attacking talents to score goals but their defence looks weak with Nemanja Vidic injured and Rio Ferdinand’s age showing. Michael Carrick is a good player, but not a defender, and a lack of movement in the United midfield is an obvious weakness.
Tottenham, by comparison, look like an excellent team. They were strong last year, and have strengthened their squad with the signings of Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson, even if Luka Modric has left. On their day, Tottenham play as well as anyone, and if Andre Villas Boas can coax consistency out of the team then there is no reason they cannot challenge for the title. After all, the bar is not that high. Manchester City, last season’s champions, beat Fulham, and showed signs of improvement on recent weeks, but their defence still looks suspect. If either Samir Nasri or David Silva can find form and dictate play in midfield, they will be favourites for the title, but right now they are showing few signs of storming away from their rivals either.
After all, it was just a week ago that Arsenal went to City and were arguably the better team. Yet they this weekend lost to the leaders Chelsea. Roberto di Matteo’s side were impressive and sharp against Arsenal, taking advantage of the hosts’ errors. Just when it seemed as though Arsenal had found some solidity at the back, they gave away two of the softest goals you will see. Still, if Arsene Wenger’s side can bounce back immediately and Olivier Giroud starts scoring, they cannot be discounted, although on the face of it their chances are not much better than those of North London rivals Tottenham.
And what of Chelsea? They look good, but are a work in progress. When they have to take the initiative in matches they can be predictable and lack width. It was noticeable that Eden Hazard and Juan Mata showed more positional discipline against Arsenal, sticking to wider areas, leaving Oscar as the central runner, but it was when Mata was on the ball that they sparkled most. Defensively, Chelsea still look uncertain, and in few big matches will they be given two softer goals than they were on Sunday.
It all adds up to a start to the season that leaves many questions over all the top teams in the league. The smart money is still on the title ending up in Manchester, but there are three realistic challengers in London, and if any of them can find consistency and get some luck with injuries, then this may end up being one of the most unpredictable title races in many a year.