Saturday 25 November 2017

Great expectations in novel campaign

Dave Devereux

Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez, one of the shining lights of the Premier League
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez, one of the shining lights of the Premier League

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'.

You're probably wondering what in the name of jaysus am I doing starting a column with the opening line from a Charles Dickens novel?

You'd imagine it would be a bit of a stretch to tie in classic prose with the Premier League, but the phrase the famous English author coined in times of yore in 'A Tale of Two Cities' could certainly be used to describe the current top flight campaign across the water.

The reason the words of Dickens ring so true is because this season is shaping up to be one of the worst, or possibly best, seasons in living memory.

In case you think I've lost the plot and am sitting here having a disagreement with myself, I'd better explain my thinking more clearly.

I'll start with the 'worst' in the above statement. Quality-wise, what's been on show so far has been nothing short of woeful for the most part.

Some of the defending - Liverpool immediately spring to mind - has been more excruciatingly painful than a Brendan Grace gag, and you're more likely to see a decent pass in the Monaco Grand Prix than from a Premier League midfielder.

Thankfully, there's been the odd exception to the rule like West Ham's supremely skilful playmaker Dimitri Payet or Leicester City's mesmerising Riyad Mahrez, who could slot the ball through the eye of a needle.

However, despite its many failings, this season has all the hallmarks of a real humdinger, with the major attraction being the sheer unpredictability of it all.

Of course, the Premier League does have a few bona fide stars, none more so than diminutive Argentinian Sergio Aguero, who is single-handedly keeping Man. City in the title race.

However, without Vincent Kompany to steady the ship their defence looks flakier than the opening sequence of a Head and Shoulders ad, despite the anti-dandruff shampoo's poster boy Joe Hart pulling off one of the saves of the season on Saturday.

In true Dickens fashion, the top two at the moment is a real tale of two cities - Leicester and Manchester - but Arsene Wenger will not get a better chance to finally bring the title back to Arsenal after years of flattering to deceive before falling away at the business end of the season.

The Gunners may have suffered a sickening setback against Chelsea on Sunday, but there were plenty of mitigating circumstances for the defeat and if the players truly believe they can win it, it's there for the taking.

Of course, the Premier League is also good for the occasional classic, where all defensive plans seem to go out the window and it turns into a five-a-side style next goal wins encounter.

Liverpool's thrilling victory over Norwich City was one such contest - a game that had everything bar a bit of composed defending.

There's nothing like a manager that's willing to show a bit of passion and Jurgen Klopp again illustrated that he's not averse to making a spectacle of himself with his final whistle celebrations at Carrow Road, even managing to break his trademark glasses in the process.

Spurs have also been turning heads of late and Dele Alli's sublime volley was a rare show of skill and creativity from an English player.

Unfortunately, it can't all be things of beauty and we were subjected to football at the other end of the spectrum drabber than train spotters' tea party as West Brom and Aston Villa bored all and sundry into submission with a 0-0 draw.

Speaking of monotony, Old Trafford has definitely turned into the theatre of tedium, rather than dreams, under Louis van Gaal.

Love them or hate them, nobody can deny that Man United's swashbuckling style under Alex Ferguson was entertaining and there was always the feeling they could produce a bit of magic from nowhere.

Now it's the supporters that must want to do a disappearing act as they continually have to sit through 90 minutes of mundane, military football that's completely devoid of the off the cuff excitement of old.

With the Red Devils wallowing in a pool of self pity, it's left for Arsenal, Manchester City, Leicester and even Spurs supporters to harbour Great Expectations, but there could be plenty of Hard Times and many an unexpected (Oliver) Twist to come.

I'll get my coat!

Wexford People

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