Monday 19 March 2018

Comment: Brilliant Man City masking the Premier League's overall lack of quality

'City are, undeniably, one of the best teams to have graced the division but it’s masking the reality of just how far the rest are dropping.' Photo: AFP/Getty Images
'City are, undeniably, one of the best teams to have graced the division but it’s masking the reality of just how far the rest are dropping.' Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

"We have recruited another quality addition, an England player with bags of experience at Premier League and Champions League level."

West Brom chairman John Williams

"Following the arrivals of Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart and Marko Arnautovic, he is another top-class professional who brings great experience and quality to the club. He has a proven goalscoring record in the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga, as well in the UEFA Champions League and at international level with Mexico."

West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan


This column always felt that footballers played at whatever level they did for a reason because, unlike musicians, there were no amazing footballers waiting to be discovered doing their own stuff in the garage.

The scouting network of the game is meant to be so widespread that nobody slips through the net and, after players are discovered, they are tested so often that they usually deliver on their potential.

Increasingly, however, as the Premier League switches between the meritocracy of the players at Manchester City running away with the title, and the mediocrity of the rest, it looks as though the vast majority of players are almost interchangeable, regardless of their previous achievements.

It would be unfair to put West Brom's almost inevitable relegation at the feet of Kieran Gibbs - to whom West Brom chairman was gushing about above - but it seems remarkable that a player who spent a decade at one of the best clubs in England can slot so seamlessly into one of the worst.

When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left Arsenal, he felt the switch to Liverpool could take his game "to the next level" but, in Gibbs's case, that level appears to be the Championship.

So far this season, Gibbs's Premier League record reads: LDLDDLLLLDDDLDLLDDLWDLLL - to save anybody doing the maths, that's 13 points from a possible 72 in the 24 league games Gibbs has played.

It's just over a year since Gibbs was in the Arsenal staring line-up in the last 16 of the Champions League when, admittedly, they were hammered 5-1 by Bayern Munich, but the point is that he was deemed good enough to at least take the field against the likes of Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski or Xabi Alonso. In the past fortnight, he has left the pitch defeated by Rajiv van La Parra against Huddersfield and Troy Deeney at Watford.

Like his counterpart at West Brom, West Ham chairman David Sullivan was delighted at the signing of Javier Hernandez whose "proven goalscoring record" was meant to keep them out of the sort of trouble which sees one manager sacked and another brought in, underwhelmingly, on a six-month deal until the end of the season.

Hernandez has a reputation as a penalty box predator, which is probably the image Sullivan had in mind when he sanctioned the signing, but his best work comes with good teams to create plenty of chances. This season, West Ham have been neither, and although Hernandez has scored seven goals, they came in six games, three of which were defeats which only served to make the scoreline look slightly better.


Two of the others came in draws and the remaining in a 2-0 victory which, charitably, means it could be argued that Hernandez's goals have contributed five points to West Ham's cause.

A player like Glenn Murray, in contrast, would never have a chairman purring in a press release or get a hashtag trending on Twitter, yet the hunger of players like Murray at Brighton as well as those at Huddersfield and Bournemouth make a mockery of the effort from the likes of West Ham and West Brom. In theory, those clubs have "winners" in their squad but, in reality, they're only winners once other players are around to do it for them.

At 34, Murray's season has been remarkable and his 11 league goals have almost all come in games where Brighton have picked up the points that have helped them to a remarkable 10th in the league.

Only one of them didn't matter - in the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool - but yesterday's second goal in the 2-1 win against Arsenal was part of a trend that, using the same criteria as for Hernandez, has contributed 19 points to Brighton's cause.

Hernandez was one of three players in the West Ham starting line-up, along with Pablo Zabaleta and Patrice Evra, who have a Premier League winner's medal, while Joe Hart sat on the bench and watched the Hammers hammered 4-1 by Swansea.

By comparison, City started just two players against Chelsea who have already won the Premier League - Sergio Aguero and David Silva - in the victory which put them 18 points clear and four games from the title.

Nobody would compare Murray to Hernandez, or Huddersfield to City, in terms of talent but there are so many players and teams cruising along from week to week that a desire to work hard and play at your maximum can produce huge results.

Instead, the league rumbles along with City romping away and the rest plodding to the point where Burnley can win their first league game in 12 on Saturday and still find themselves in seventh.

Their 40-point tally is an excellent achievement for them but their position is an indictment of the overall standard - it took them 29 games to get there.

When Leicester won the league in 2016, West Brom's 39 points from 29 games was only good enough for 11th spot; the previous season West Brom, again, had 43 points but were eighth. In 2014 , at the same period, Tottenham had 50 points in seventh, and the previous season Southampton's 42 points was only good enough for ninth.

City are, undeniably, one of the best teams to have graced the division but it's masking the reality of just how far the rest are dropping. When players like Gibbs can seamlessly go from Champions League to Championship in a season there's no reason to believe that players are genuinely at the level they deserve to be.

Irish Independent

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