We may only be 21 matches in, but already this 22nd Premier League season is being heralded by all and sundry as the best ever. Better than 2003/04, when Arsenal’s Invincibles achieved the impossible and went through a whole season undefeated; better than 1998/99, with United’s treble-winning triumph; better even than 2011/12, when Sergio Agüero wrested the title from the red to the blue half of Manchester with practically the last kick of the game.
With Luis Suárez already on a goals tally of 22 from just 16 matches, Manchester City on course to score their 60th league goal – and their 100th in all competitions - this weekend, and at least six teams in the mix at both the top and the bottom, maybe 2013/14 does have it all.
Everybody knew this season was bound to offer something unusual; with different managers at City, United and Everton, plus a returning manager at Chelsea, the excitement was there as everyone focussed on how the new (and not-so-new) boys were getting on. Fergie’s retirement was always going to be a milestone, but Moyes’s record at United since August has made it seem like the death knell for easy success at Old Trafford. The key word here is 'easy', because United’s fall from grace/slip to mid-table this year is indicative of two things; one, a new manager still finding his feet in one of the most difficult, pressurised roles in football; and two, the competitiveness of the league this year. Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool are right up there with the likes of City and Chelsea; coupled with United and Spurs dipping and succumbing when many expected them not to, this unexpectedness has surprised fans, and made refreshing changes to the top of the table – if you’re not a Red Devil or a Spurs supporter, of course.
It’s been just as unpredictable down the bottom, with a total of six teams currently separated by just three points. In fact, only six points separate Crystal Palace, rooted at rock bottom with 17, and tenth placed Hull City, sitting pretty - for now - with 23. Amongst this bottom half, there’s been some terrible performances; 15th placed Norwich’s 7-0 thrashing at Manchester City and 16th placed Fulham’s 6-0 embarrassment by Hull spring to mind, but there’s also been some interesting results. Sunderland, Cardiff and Villa, 19th, 18th and 11th respectively, have all beaten second placed Man City this season; 12th placed Stoke emerged victorious over 3rd placed Chelsea in a five goal thriller back in November; and Hull even beat fourth placed Liverpool last month, Suárez and all. Even now, with just over four months to go, it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will go down. Such uncertainty really does make for an exciting season, but where does all this unpredictability come from?
We should never factor sheer and utter randomness out completely, of course, but I think that the general closeness of the tops and bottom halves of the table this year can be attributed to one main cause; managers. City are playing so well under Pellegrini, and have espoused an exciting, attacking style of play all year, but they struggled away from home at the start of the season, mainly because their manager and new players were getting used to life in the Premier League; how away teams rarely give up, and how vital concentration is for the whole 90 minutes. Martinez has confounded all his doubters at Everton, who currently sit in fifth place, four points above United. He achieved at his first attempt what Moyes never managed during eleven years at Goodison Park – an Everton victory at Old Trafford – and not only are his Toffees playing attractive football, but they also have the joint-first meanest defence in the league, along with Arsenal and Chelsea. Martinez’s loan-signings of Barry and Lukaku have been widely lauded, and Everton’s transformation this season from top six also-rans to true top four contenders is a great achievement for the Spaniard, and just one way in which 2013/14 has shattered expectations.
Maybe we should have known that this footballing year would be different when Arsenal actually signed a ready-made world class player back in August. Özil’s transfer from the Bernabéu to the Emirates was a major shock, finally signalling the Gunners’ intent to take their title challenge seriously. With half the season gone, Arsenal are still top of the league, and the way they responded from their opening day defeat against Villa has been phenomenal. Gooners are sick of hearing how they’re not going to win the title this year, despite all they’ve already done, and I have to say that as a City fan, I think they have reason to be disgruntled; even with injuries to Walcott amongst others, they are still fighting on three fronts, remain a point above City and, most importantly, continually play excellent football. Their sustained title challenge has been yet another surprise in this most novel of seasons.
An analysis of 13/14 so far could not go by without mentioning one thing – goals – and one man – Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan has had his troubles in the past, but he seems to have put them all behind him, and is currently an utter joy to watch. The man’s stats are frightening – 22 league goals from 16 matches, and an average of 1.375 goals per game, or one goal every 65 minutes. His combination with Sturridge must be like manna from heaven for Reds fans, and I personally believe that although Liverpool are not a one-man team, Suarez’s exemplary standards have lifted everybody at Anfield this season, helping to turn the club into true top four material. 13/14 has also seen a plethora of ridiculously good goals this season, from Arsenal’s amazing team goal versus Norwich put home by Wilshere to Kasami’s Van Basten-esque wonder volley for Fulham against Palace. Man City’s Yaya Touré has become a master at free-kicks since the summer, and his side have gone goal crazy since August, averaging three a game in all competitions, and 3.8 a game at home in the league.
All in all, it seems fair to say that 13/14 is already the best Premier League season ever; it’s so competitive, and so many different teams have a chance of winning the title, finishing in Champions League/Europa League places or going down, that practically every match is of the utmost importance. Already this season has seen 12 games contain 6 or more goals, not to mention a multitude of contentious refereeing decisions and even the awarding of a ‘Spanish penalty’ (thanks, Brendan). With Suárez hurtling towards 30 goals, City on target to surpass Chelsea’s total of 103 league goals (the Blues should hit 107 at their current rate) and top six, bottom six and derby matches aplenty, there’s still so much more to come.