Russell Cowper on a gradual changing of the guards.
Football is cyclical, great teams come and go, dynasties rise and dynasties fall.’
The question is are we seeing a generational shift in the dominant elite, are we witnessing the proverbial changing of the guard. In Sky football terms are we seeing the demise of the old self-styled “big three” narrative and the rise of a new “big three”
Our game has ushered in an era of fearless all out attacking football epitomised by Tottenham and Manchester City and attempted much to his credit by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Are the old “big three” of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in danger of becoming systematically indicative of a bygone era?
In a week where Tottenham boldly played two upfront and took the game to the mighty Real Madrid, a team so used to sides turning up at the Bernabeu with one striker and a packed defence and being grateful for a cup of tea if they survive and escape a severe beating and footballing admonishment Spurs were bold, adventurous and almost successful, a Chelsea side devoid of ideas stuttered to a deserved reversal at bottom of the league Crystal Palace.
A week were we saw a Manchester United so lacking in attacking intent against a team they usually set about with great relish, passionate gusto and rare abandon park the proverbial bus, their neighbours Manchester City thrilled the footballing world with a consummate display of attacking football, wonderful creativity and some fabulous individual virtuosity in thrashing a stubborn Stoke City side and then taking the game to the rampant unbeaten Italian league leaders Napoli with such ferocity that they looked shell shocked after half an hour. It was all credit to Napoli that clung on with typical Italian defensive nous and kept the score respectable.
A week where an Arsenal side looking bereft of a plan, lacking confidence and class lost to an improving but limited Watford side saw Liverpool escape the induced shackled torpor of a Mourinho inspired park the bus masterclass to stroll to a record European away win with an avalanche of goals in a performance full of pace, vigour and vim.
The last week has been a microcosm of the change in English Premier league footballing attitudes. The new teams on the block attack, then attack some more, it is a satisfying antidote to the dull, insipid robotic nature of the cautious tactically smothering norms of the withering “big three”.
Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City can be thrilling sides to watch. Full of pace, unafraid to pass out from the back, garnered with wonderful natural attacking talent. The tactically astute coaches construct platforms for their creative players to thrive, the high press, the high defensive lines, the width and the desire to keep the ball regardless of pitch position marks out their intent. Each of the three has wonderfully gifted playmakers at his heart. Coutinho, Eriksen, Silva and De Bruyne are magnificent footballers who would grace any team with their vision and awareness and their respective teams are built around their strengths. They are surrounded by a blur of movement and attacking intent. It is fabulous to watch.
Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are the teams in danger of being left behind in this new era of tactical development but of the three Manchester United look the strongest. Mourinho’s pragmatic approach may be at odds with United’s traditions but he is a winner and for now that may suffice and satisfy the demands of their fervent support, but how long will it be before the loyalists accept the bland tactical approach they saw against their biggest rivals Liverpool. United do possess a potent goal scoring threat and real pace on the counter with Rashford and Martial but how long will there support accept the negativity of the Arch-pragmatists the park the bus mentality.
Chelsea look a pale shadow of the dominant side that won the title last season. Manchester City gave them the run around at Stamford Bridge and the solid platform created by Conte to exploit the genius of Hazard know looks like it was built on quicksand and they are vulnerable against teams unafraid to attack them and exploit their defensive weaknesses.
Arsenal have been in a constant state of flux for a number of years. The only stability they have is a manager the fans don’t want. Ozil is peripheral, Sanchez disinterested and wants out, highly rated Lacazette has hardly been seen and they look so frail defensively, Adams, Keown et al must watch from behind the sofa.
Are we really witnessing a generational shift? Or am I as a Manchester City fan being swept along with the hyperbole associated with our magnificent start to the season. The football is bewitching; our goal scoring exploits are breaking records.