Football

No, this is the worst season

The EPL can't be worthy if there aren't one exceptional team, argues Daily Mail's Ian Ladyman

Welcome to the 2015/2016 Premier League, the most unpredictable for some time. Trying to predict the scores has become as easy as counting grains of sand.

Anyone who fails to take pleasure from Leicester's journey or the forward momentum of Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Watford is watching the wrong sport.

These four clubs - and there are others too - are benefiting from exceptional management and sound strategy.

Nevertheless, there is an inescapable flip side to this.

Leicester, for example, were top of the league courtesy not only of their own surprising standards, but also because of a clear drop-off from those teams who are expected to occupy the first three or four positions.

Last season, Chelsea won the Premier League while losing just three games. This time round, Arsenal have already lost four, while City and United have lost five each.

So this brings us to an unavoidable question - can a league really be that worthy if it doesn't contain a single exceptional team?

The answer to this is clearly "no".

That's why this season is the worst in recent memory and, furthermore, there is absolutely no fathomable reason for it.

Since the start of the summer of 2013, the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal have spent around £1.1 billion ($2.3b) on transfers.

That is an extraordinary amount of money and is a figure that will only accelerate once next season's TV deal kicks in.

VALUE FOR MONEY

Looking at the Premier League standings at the moment, however, it is hard to present a case for any of those clubs really receiving value for their money.

Consider the wholly remarkable case of Manchester United to understand this further.

There is no doubt that Louis van Gaal has recently presided over some of his club's worst football for many, many years.

Yet as the storm over van Gaal's future raged over Christmas - as the Dutchman considered walking away - United remained in touch with those above them in the table.

After City lost at Arsenal just before Christmas, for example, they led their neighbours by just three points.

Today, United are only two points behind Tottenham, who are fourth (before their match against Everton this morning, Singapore time).

It is these numbers - rather than United's miserable football and results - that have seemingly convinced chief executive Ed Woodward that all is not yet lost at Old Trafford.

This, therefore, is the reality of life in the Premier League.

The great coaches of our time - van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger - have sold themselves short this time round.

You only had to watch last Monday's draw between United and Chelsea to understand this further.

At Arsenal, they may take issue with this argument. They are top after beating Newcastle on Saturday.

Nevertheless, anyone who saw them lose 4-0 at Southampton on Boxing Day will know just how frail and brittle they can be.

CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM

If you are an Arsenal supporter, then you have cause to be optimistic. But confident? That's another matter entirely.

Some people may argue that the closeness of the competition is all that we should be concerned with. There is weight to that point of view.

Last Tuesday, Leicester hosted Man City as Claudio Ranieri attempted to take his team back to the top of the pile.

It was one of the most anticipated games of the holiday programme and nobody would ever have expected it to be so.

Everybody adores an over-achiever and we welcome all that Leicester have given us.

This is a poor league, though. If it wasn't, they simply wouldn't be near the top.


WHAT THE BOSSES SAY

>Arsene Wenger (Arsenal, 1st)

How do you measure that (the best or worst season ever)... public opinion decides that. In Greece, Olympiakos are 18 points in front of second-placed AEK Athens. In France, Paris Saint-Germain are 19 points in front. If you have that, everybody will say it's boring and it is better (in the Premier League) where seven or eight teams can win it.

>Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City, 2nd)

I think it's good because there is more of a battle. Nobody can say, 'This team or that team will win'... It's good for the league...

>Manuel Pellegrini (Man City, 3rd)

It's difficult to use the word 'worst'. Maybe it's the closest... It's more interesting with six or seven teams involved in the title race...

>Louis van Gaal (Man United, 5th)

It is an unpredictable season, but I am probably not the best person to judge as I've been in the Premier League only since 2014.

>Slaven Bilic (West Ham 6th)

This season is kind of logical. Every club in this league can buy good players.... It is harder for big clubs to improve.

>Quique Sanchez Flores (Watford, 9th)

The worst? Who says it's the worst? It's amazing... Every weekend, I don't know what happens.

>Mark Hughes (Stoke, 10th)

We know we can beat anyone in this league, although there are a lot of teams who will say exactly the same.

> Roberto Martinez (Everton, 11th)

It's been the strongest Premier League that you're going to get. I think the psychological element has been affected this season, simply because every club know there's a jackpot for staying in the Premier League because of the new television deal... Everybody thinks, 'It doesn't matter who we play against. We have to get points'.


RED-HOT POTTERS: Stoke City have beaten Manchester United, Chelsea and Man City this term.

UPSETS IN 
THIS EPL SEASON

CHELSEA

  • lost 3-1 to Everton
  • lost 3-1 to Southampton
  • lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace
  • lost 2-1 to West Ham
  • lost 2-1 to Leicester
  • lost 1-0 to Stoke City
  • lost 1-0 to Bournemouth

MAN UNITED

  • lost 2-0 to Stoke City
  • lost 2-1 to Bournemouth
  • lost 2-1 to Norwich
  • lost 2-1 to Swansea


LIVERPOOL

  • lost 3-0, 2-0 to West Ham
  • lost 3-0 to Watford
  • lost 2-0 to Newcastle
  • lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace

MAN CITY

  • lost 2-0 to Stoke City
  • lost 2-1 to West Ham

ARSENAL

  • lost 4-0 to Southampton
  • lost 2-0 to West Ham
  • lost 2-1 to West Brom
epl