Things are a little tight at the top of the English Premier League, and it's making people nervous. Only seven points separate the top seven teams, and the pack could further congest if Aston Villa, Manchester City and Arsenal win their games in hand.
There's talk in England now of a "Magnificent Seven," comprising the "Big Four" plus Villa, City and Tottenham Hotspur.
"Cruising," Arsène? Really? Interesting. With the "Big Four" of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United established as a fixture for around a decade now, what's changed?
There's a certain element of inevitability about the change, there always is, Team Limey thinks in a pensive, sentimental
City, Spurs and Villa may have had their ups and downs, but these are big clubs with long and proud pedigrees. Since '06, Villa, under one of the game's managerial greats in
City, too, for all its money, has cultivated some great young talent in
Meanwhile, over at White Hart Lane,
But it's not just the increased competition at the top that's causing nerves. Top teams are also finding the minor sides stiffer opponents this year and are drawing and losing games against them. "This year has the potential to be as open as it has ever been," said
Pundits typically have put this down to the exciting nature of the EPL, but we have another explanation. Rising TV revenues have meant that money raised through participating in the European competitions is falling as a percentage of club's income. Overall though, we agree with Hughes that more intense competition "has to be good for the Premier League."
An eventful couple of rounds has definitely seen English football's secondary domestic cup competition come back in vogue. League Cup (or Carling Cup, in corporate speak) attendances are up, and many of the bigger teams have been fielding what, on paper, appear to be stronger teams than they have been in recent years when the value of the tournament was questionable and in some club's eyes, the tournament was seen as somewhat of an unwanted distraction.
Strengthened collections of bit-part players at leading sides, and a growing desire from the also-rans to fill bare trophy cabinets has led to a greater prevalence of the bigger teams appearing in the latter stages. This year's cup is testament to that, with six of the eight quarterfinalists sitting in the top seven of the current EPL standings.
One club with cobwebs adorning their cabinet is Manchester City. The last time City won a major trophy was in fact the League Cup in 1976, a time when club owner
City will have its fingers crossed when the draw for the quarterfinals is made on Saturday, as it aims to make its first final of a major tournament since 1981. Its opponent in that year's FA Cup final was Tottenham, which has an impressive pedigree in the League Cup reaching last year's final and winning it the previous year. Spurs convincingly beat Everton 2-0 on Tuesday.
The scorer of the winning goal in the FA Cup final in '81 was
In our last column, we put forward the 23 players we think we will be pressing their team England suits in preparation for next June's football
On the subject of the lizard that used to grace our EPL,
The only chance Beckham has of making it to South Africa is if he's plying regularly in a top league in the months leading up to the World Cup. Capello has made that clear. His move to AC Milan is virtually sealed, and if he plays close to how he performed last season, we stand by our view that Beckham is worth having in the squad, as the attributes he brings to the squad are unique. Young and Wright-Phillips are great players, but if fit, England will already have two very similar players in the squad in
Send your thoughts on how the battle for the EPL title and the top four places is shaping up, and any other banter to the usual address