Open season as English big guns misfire
07 October 2013, 19:24
London -The topsy-turvy opening weeks of the Premier League campaign have fuelled pre-season optimism that the 2013-14 title race would be one of the most open in years.
With Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all under new management, and a glut of new players having arrived during the close season, the English top flight is in the throes of transition, and the off-pitch upheaval has been mirrored in the results.
For the first time since 2009, there are no unbeaten teams after seven games.
The six-point gap between leaders Arsenal and 10th-place Aston Villa, meanwhile, represents the narrowest such gap since 2007 and it is only the second time since 1994 that the teams in the top half of the division have been so tightly bunched at this stage of the season.
Unexpected defeats for the league's leading lights have only added to the sense of disorder.
Arsenal's stunning home defeat by Villa on the season's opening day set the tone and champions United have already lost three times, including a 4-1 humiliation in the Manchester derby.
City have been beaten by both Villa and promoted Cardiff City, while Tottenham Hotspur crashed to a surprise 3-0 loss at home to West Ham United on Sunday.
Amid the carnage, Mauricio Pochettino's well-drilled Southampton side have stealthily crept up the table to fourth place, following a run of three wins and a draw in which they did not concede a single goal.
West Bromwich Albion are another club to have exploited the uncertainty, having won 2-1 away to United with a performance of laudable boldness before drawing 1-1 at home to Arsenal.
Speaking before his side's victory at Old Trafford, West Brom manager Steve Clarke presciently proclaimed: "I don't believe it has a fear factor. I don't hold with feeling nervous or intimidated. You should relish the challenge."
The notion of a shifting power structure was embodied by Morgan Amalfitano's arrestingly brazen opening goal in that game, the French winger driving at the United defence, impudently nutmegging centre-back Rio Ferdinand, and then nonchalantly lifting the ball over goalkeeper David de Gea.
It was also apparent at White Hart Lane on Sunday, when Ravel Morrison sealed West Ham's victory over Spurs with a similarly precocious burst through an opposition defence that had previously conceded only two goals in six matches.
Over the last 10 seasons, the average gap between the teams finishing first and fourth has been 20 points and not once has the team in fourth place ended the season within 10 points of the champions.
However, although the statistics suggest the early throes of a much more democratic title race, former Liverpool defender turned BBC television pundit Alan Hansen feels it is too soon to tell.
"People are saying it's the most open Premier League for years, but as far as I'm concerned, the favourites at the start are still the favourites: the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea," he said.
"The first 10, 12 games, you can't win the title, but you can lose it. Maybe Man United are a bit further behind than they'd want to be, but apart from that, they're all in position."