Sunday night I decided to tune into the WWE Royal Rumble for nostalgic purposes. Growing up I was a big wrestling fan, but now I prefer to watch the Road to WrestleMania, because WrestleMania is equivalent to a Champions League final. The Pay Per View overall was quite poor and the main event saw The Rock defeat CM Punk in his first match in 9 months. May I remind you that CM Punk held the title for 434 days, and the manner in which he lost the title was an absolute farce.
Moving forward, what caught my eye was the traditional, “30 Man over the Top Rope” Royal Rumble match. This is where I realized the WWE and The Barclays Premier League have a lot in common. I mean the final five men in the match were predictable and there were only two possible winners, Ryback or John Cena. These two were the only men in the match who had a chance of main eventing WrestleMania, as the other wrestlers are substandard to them. It’s similar to our modern day Premier League that from opening day had only two legitimate title contenders in Manchester United and Manchester City.
The Premier League is the most watched soccer league in the world with arguably the largest fan base. The league gets more popular as time passes with the help of TV deals and an influx of foreign talent choosing to play their trade in England.
I mean the Premier League has to be the best league in the world right?
When was the last time you saw a title race go down to the final whistle?
Who won the 2012 Champions League in Munich?
The BPL has to be the best considering the “white Pele” plays there opposed to leagues that consists of two horse races or a league like the Serie A, in which Juventus is a class above the rest – hyperbole.
When you think of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, history and trophies come to mind. United is the most successful team in the Premier League era winning 12 Premier League titles, including a treble winning season in 1999.
Last season they conceded the title to their noisy neighbours on the final day of the season via goal difference. A 94th minute Sergio Aguero winner had denied United from claiming their 20th league title. It was a trophyless season, which saw them crash out of the group stage of the Champions league and get played off the park by Atletico Bilbao in the Europa League.
In any sport, the aim is to get better and fix the flaws that you possess. When you’re a team like Manchester United, a trophyless season is unacceptable. United, like many Premier League teams, had various issues to address over the summer if they wanted to be legitimate contenders not only domestically but also in Europe.
But on Friday August 17th 2012, they showed their domestic title aspirations as they acquired Robin Van Persie for £24m from Arsenal. Many questioned the signing, as Ferguson ignored two key areas he needed to address. However, we’re half way through the campaign and as the days go by it looks like Ferguson made the right decision.
Van Persie has netted 22 times this season and is arguably the reason why United, with a game in hand, are four points clear at the top of the Premier League. The Dutch striker scored 36 goals last season for Arsenal is also a key factor in United’s FA Cup and Champions League run.
United have made their best start to a season since the three point rule was introduced, obtaining 55 points from 66 in the opening 22 games. It’s a remarkable stat and if they were to continue picking up 2.5 points a game they would match the 95-point record set by Chelsea in 2004-2005.
Theoretically to win a soccer match you need to outscore your opponent, which is what United are doing. Although they have major weaknesses, their luxury in attack has covered up their flaws.
Javier Hernandez, Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck have scored approximately 62% of United’s goals in all competitions and 60% of their goals in the Premier League. Also, with Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans having their best goal scoring seasons, United have scored a league high 57 goals.
Despite their fantastic start to the season, if United reclaim the Premier League title, they’ll do so with the worst defensive record in the last decade. The most goals conceded by a champion over the last decade were 37(Manchester United 2010-2011) and United have already allowed 30.
This season United has given up several goals from set pieces, and have been exposed when teams take the game to them. In fullbacks Rafael and Patrice Evra, they have great options going forward but defensively they’re good, but not reliable. David De Gea has had a few shaky moments this season; he’s a great shot stopper that lacks a physical presence but will only get better with experience. In terms of centre backs Evans and Rio Ferdinand have been efficient, and are at their best when United sit deeper. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones they have young English talent that have potential to be top Premier League defenders in the future. Lastly captain Nemanja Vidic is a massive boost when in the line up, but there are concerns in whether he’ll ever recover his best form.
In the midfield you have deep lying players in Michael Carrick (whose been fantastic this season) and Paul Scholes who like to control the tempo of the game, but also struggle when pressure is applied to them. In Anderson and Darren Fletcher you have runners who provide energy in the midfield but both struggle to stay fit. Then you have Tom Cleverley, who is by far United’s most technical midfielder. Cleverley is a very versatile midfielder that tends to play higher up the pitch and is direct when United have possession.
What United lack in their midfield is a physical presence – a box-to-box midfielder. United struggle to take control of games and against sides that possess highly technical and physical players in the midfield, they lose control of the game and get overrun. Juventus has Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, Barcelona has Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas, Real Madrid can rely on Khedira, Alonso and Modric, and Bayern Munich has Martinez, Schweinsteiger , Kroos and Gustavo at their disposal. There’s a gulf in class in the midfield between world football’s elite and England best and that is quite alarming.
The question most will ask is with defensive frailties at the back and the lack of a dominant box-box midfielder, how are United still at the top of the Premier League?
Well that’s down to the decline of quality teams in the Premier League over the last two seasons. The Premier League is filled with many inferior sides when matched up to the clubs from Manchester, which explains why they succeed despite possessing major blemishes. Neither side has a tactical identity, but they have an abundance of attacking players, and a few world-class players. Their ability to outscore several inferior sides is the answer domestically, but has been their downfall in Europe.
The WWE has gone from the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit, The Rock, and Kurt Angle to John Cena, CM Punk and Sheamus. Once upon a time Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal were elite European sides that also made the Premier League competitive. Now there’s a distinct gulf in class between the two clubs from Manchester and the rest of the so-called top Premier League sides, as there is with the top stars in the WWE.
Since the recent decline in the Premier League, Manchester United has made it past the Champions League semi-finals once, in which they were outclassed by Barcelona at Wembley. That year they faced Marseille, Chelsea and Schalke 04 to make it to the finals, teams that are good, but not great. The year prior they were knocked out by Bayern Munich and last season they failed to get out of the group stage, and were played off the park by Atletico Bilbao in the Europa League. It’s not only Manchester United, but the other top English sides have failed to make a mark in Europe, other than Chelsea’s fortuitous Champions League victory last season. Prior to that they were knocked out of the round of 16 by Inter Milan, the quarterfinals by Manchester United, and the group stage this season.
Frankly, one can argue that United’s success this season isn’t due to how good they’ve been but is simply an indictment on the league as a whole. But it leaves us to ask one question, why hasn’t Ferguson attempted to fix these issues? It looked like he was keen on doing so after being humiliated at Wembley, but it’s possible he felt his side would be able to bounce back from that.
Half way through last season Paul Scholes came out of retirement as a short-term option to bandage the issue. He did a great job, but United falling short to City has made Fergie determined to reclaim the Premier League title, and has once again overshadowed the problem. The signing of Robin Van Persie was the answer to his problem, and thus far it’s been a success domestically. With a Champions League tie against Real Madrid looming, we’ll get to see how United fare against an elite side.
The WWE in general has a handful of elite stars and through watching the Royal Rumble Sunday night, I’ve come to a conclusion that like the WWE, The Premier League and Manchester United have suffered a major decline in terms of quality.
Nevertheless, in terms of points total, this can be the greatest Manchester United side in the Premier League era.
With some saying, we’ve yet to see the best from United this season, it’s possible that this might be as good as they get. Its time to accept what United are, and what the Premier League has become.
United is not an elite side and The Premier League is not the best league in the world.
Furthermore, United is a good side that has possibly created a new cliché in modern day football.
That being, offense wins championships, in the Premier League.
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