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A Lack of Bite
Are the top teams now happy to settle for a draw against each other?
Posted Jan 18, 2011 by Shaun Edwards
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One of the greatest aspects of the Premier League has always been the matches between the top sides. Whether it was Newcastle United v Manchester United and Kevin Keegan’s ‘I will love it if we beat them, LOVE it’ declaration back in 1996, or Christopher Wreh scoring the winner at Old Trafford in 1998 to bring Arsene Wenger his first league trophy, there was nothing like the thrill of watching the top dogs fight it out in both tense affairs and seven goal thrillers.
This season, though, I’ve been feeling uncertainty as to whether these matches will still retain the same importance as they once did in the upcoming seasons. In years past, it was considered a huge psychological blow to take three points away from your immediate competitors. If you were a team that hadn’t won the league before, then defeating the dominant team was almost essential in gaining the edge that would enable you to go on and claim that first crown.
Now, though, the urgency just doesn’t seem to be there from those teams hoping to wrestle the title away from Chelsea and Manchester United. Having settled down in order to watch what I thought would be a thriller at White Hart Lane with Harry Redknapp’s swashbuckling Spurs hoping to further stake their claim to the Premiership title race against an underperforming (but still undefeated) Manchester United.
What I actually witnessed was a bit of a snore-draw, with neither side looking that inspired and both sides seemingly fairly happy with the result. It was a highly disappointing performance, more from Spurs than from a Manchester United side that could be forgiven for their caution against the same Spurs team that had previously dominated the champions of Europe with their free-flowing counter attacks. Harry Redknapp’s team did attack to an extent, with Peter Crouch going the closest in the first half, but it was nothing like the complete thrilling domination that destroyed Inter Milan. There was the overwhelming sense that had you offered Spurs the 0-0 at the game’s outset that they would have bitten your hand off.
This is not the first time that such a thing has happened. The Manchester Derby gave the same result, with Mancini’s Manchester City side seemingly completely unprepared to take United on and risk losing, much preferring to come away with one point and no egg on the face. Similarly, United and Arsenal’s December fixture was played out (especially on Arsenal’s part) with a complete lack of adventure.
Interestingly enough, though, results like this aren’t seen so often when United aren’t involved. Manchester City were happy to take the attack to Chelsea and took three points from them. When motivated and attacking, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners got the win against both City and Chelsea, despite their previously poor record against the top sides.
Perhaps, then, the bore-draws that United have been involved with instead represent exactly that: the Manchester United factor. A team that have won so many matches with their never-give-up, never say die attitude have instilled this apparent fear in teams facing them adopting the same tactics. The last team that I saw truly take it to Manchester United were Arsene Wenger’s invincibles, and they dominated Sir Alex’s United side. Until other teams have the courage to do the same thing, United are always going to be near the upper echelons of the Premier League.
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