“This is worst English top-flight season since 1996/97” – Scott Murray

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I don’t like intellectual prostitution. I like intellectual honesty. There has been great intellectual manipulation over the last few days. A great job has been done to manipulate public opinion. Over the last two days we have not talked about a Roma side with great players, lots of players I wanted to have with me, that will finish the season with zero titles. We have not talked about Milan, who will finish the season with zero titles. We have not talked about Juventus, who have won lots of points with refereeing mistakes.” – Jose Mourinho.

Runner-up: “Nobody, but nobody, was allowed to even look at a glass of wine or any kind of alcohol. I’ve got no time really for drinking in football. I don’t see any reason why footballers should have a drink. At West Ham I made it no-alcohol-allowed in the players’ bar when I took over as manager. I sent the security people with them and they said they weren’t drunk. One idiot might have got drunk who doesn’t play in the team or whatever, or might have had a drink.” – Harry Redknapp.

Today’s overview: There is a schism of opinion in relation to the top of the Premier League this Wednesday. Some criticise the lack of competition for the title while others claim that, despite Liverpool and Chelsea being on the same points, the Reds’ title ambitions remain dead in the water but the Blues could be able to mount a serious challenge to Manchester United.

Having seen Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal win on Tuesday night, Scott Murray barks that “in terms of quality, from top to bottom, this is worst English top-flight season since 1996/97… [If] United win their two matches in hand, they’ll be ten points ahead with ten still to play. Such an embarrassing gap hasn’t been seen in England since 1999/2000, when United finished 18 points ahead of Arsenal, but at least they had rattled in a spectacular 97 goals along the way, which offered Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool an excuse they could grab with both hands.”

While flipping focus to the wrong end of the Premier League, Rob Smyth has sympathy for those “modest teams [i.e Hull, West Brom & Stoke] promoted through outstanding management, [who] accelerate their club’s progress and created unrealistic expectations that would ultimately cost them.”

Matt Hughes reports on the happy days at Stamford Bridge since “the Brazilian samba school has been replaced by a Dutch labour camp… Drogba is not the only player to have exploded into life, as several of his team-mates have raised their game. Michael Ballack flew into tackles, Salomon Kalou threatened down the right and Petr Cech showed signs of regaining his best form.” The same sentiment was echoed by Sam Wallace writing “another case of deadly Didier and golden Guus, a double-act that is turning into a beautiful friendship.” Neil Ashton takes Chelsea’s recent form to the extreme arguing “anything is possible after this streaky victory. Somehow they are still in the hunt for the title, ensuring another agonising week for Chelsea’s supporters.”

The upturn at Chelsea is contrasted with events at Arsenal, where Alan Smith considers the growing rabble calling for Arsene Wenger to be given the chop. “It costs a lot of money to get in the Emirates and an audience used to beautiful football isn’t going to sit quietly while Rome seemingly burns. It’s worth adding, too, that many of these punters are new to the scene. They don’t go back to the early Eighties when things were really bad.” Along similar lines Neil Ashton notes that “most teams, namely the other 15 clubs below them in the league, would happily trade positions with Arsenal and yet a run in the FA Cup and a potential place in the quarter-final of the Champions League… is not enough for some… The supporters rightly want the bread and butter of the Premier League to be the priority, but after 12 years at the club Wenger is entitled to a wobble.”

Sandy Macaskill reveals how Aston Villa could finish the season in fourth but still miss out on the Champions League. “Were Arsenal to win the Champions League this season they would be given automatic entry next year, even if Villa have replaced them inside the top four. Villa, in turn, would have to finish in the league’s top three to qualify.”

An irate Martin Samuel believes that Sepp Blatter has an irrational vendetta against the Premier League in which “he takes the evils of the game worldwide and attributes them to English football… [while] by contrast, Blatter never allows England to take credit for the British and Irish players who are the products of the English league, preferring to lump them in with the foreigners in his speeches.”

It has been quite some time since Leeds United dominated the backpages, but David Conn unveils a web of intrigue and potential lies as “links between Leeds United and an offshore holding company that were denied when the club was in administration are now coming to light” which affected the club falling under the ownership of Ken Bates. And keeping with Leeds, with the release of the movie The Damned United one of the great underestimations “is that because it is a novel, and interpretative, and written by a man who never met Clough, it is not as truthful as those books written by friends, colleagues or acquaintances.”

In an offbeat article Rob Bagchi wonders what is it modern football fans really want to see. “The modern game has turned us into hypocrites. We profess to prefer silky skills but when our team is fannying about it doesn’t take long for even the aesthetes to yell “get stuck in” if not the more chilling “get some blood on your boots” that used to be a regular staple at grounds a couple of decades ago.”

Others articles of note include Matthew Fearon’s AC Milan “dream XI” in the Independent, while the Daily Mail peddle transfer speculation printing “Arsenal and Bolton have been put on red alert after Sporting Lisbon midfielder Miguel Veloso revealed he will leave Portugal at the end of the season.” The Mirror also have their own transfer gossip reporting that “Arsenal and Chelsea are tracking Atletico Madrid’s midfielder Sergio Marcos, 16, a free agent in the summer” and Ann Gripper claims that “Tottenham are interested in bringing in Barcelona teenager Bojan Krkic,”