Carson: Premier League deserves attention
Alex Carson | Friday, February 19, 2016
It’s been almost two weeks since the Super Bowl, and we’re all tired of talking about Cam Newton’s press conference. It’s February, which means the NCAA tournament is still a month away, while we’re two months away from MLB Opening Day and the NHL and NBA playoffs.
Unless you pull for a college basketball team on the bubble or an NBA or NHL squad that’s entrenched in a playoff battle, you’re probably feeling a little empty as a sports fan as we hit the middle of February. And if you only follow what’s going on in the United States, you’re probably justified.
But that’s where you’re mistaken: You’re wrong to focus only on what’s going on stateside. Completely wrong.
Take a look across the pond at what’s termed by most to be the “greatest league in the world” when it comes to soccer — the English Premier League. Typically, by February, the title race in England is down to, say, two clubs — if there’s even a contest at all. And when the dust settles, it’s typically Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea that has the chance to take home the title two-thirds of the way through the season.
For those of us crazy enough to wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturday and Sunday mornings, however, we’ve been treated to what’s looking like an incredible season.
Chelsea, last season’s champions, sit in 12th place in the 20-team league, 20 points back of the title with no tangible chance of doing much more than finishing in the top half of the table at season’s end. Manchester United sit fifth, a slightly better position, but still lie 12 points — that’s four wins — behind the league leaders with only 12 games to play. Their chase is for fourth place and a Champions League berth, not the league title.
And Manchester City had a chance to firmly entrench itself in the title race yesterday — if it could’ve gotten a result. But the Citizens blew their chance at home and sit six points back with 12 games to play. They’re not out of it, but things aren’t looking good in the blue half of Manchester.
That leaves three contenders separated by two points, one of whom is likely to win the crown, that most thought the crown was beyond — or well beyond — this season: Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.
Arsenal sit third and, amongst the clubs at the top of the table, they’re the most fitting to be there. Mesut Özil is the best player on a side that’s used to being in the top four — the Gunners have qualified for the Champions League via a top-four spot for the last 18 seasons. And while Arsenal is one of the most storied clubs in English soccer, it’s been a while since the Gunners’ last true title push eight seasons ago, their fourth-place finish two seasons ago non-withstanding. I’d be shocked if that changes. Arsenal’s title drought is just 12 seasons; not too long, but long enough that it would be a little refreshing to see Arsène Wenger lift the Premier League trophy once again.
Then there’s Spurs, Arsenal’s eternal North London rival. The two meet March 5 in what is going to be the most anticipated showdown of the year. If Tottenham come out on top, it could be the result that punches their ticket to the club’s first English top-flight league win since 1961. Spurs have just one other title — in 1951 — and boast a club that’s got Harry Kane and a lot of really nice young players. If you’d have asked me in August what I thought of their chances, I would’ve told you a top-four finish was a solid goal for a young side. But they’ve perhaps hit their peak well before schedule, and they’re reaping the benefits.
Of course, we haven’t gotten to league-leading Leicester City, who are gunning for their first title … ever. Conventional wisdom said the Foxes needed to be concerned about relegation in August, not a league title, and conventional wisdom would’ve been right. It’s a squad chock full of players purchased for small transfer fees and led by Jamie Vardy, a player who played in England’s fifth tier just a few years ago. In a league dominated by money and greed, Leicester might just be the best example of a Cinderella in club soccer.
So sure, there’s nothing important going on in the United States’s sports scene right now.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not sports drama to be found.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.