Are England's Big Four in trouble?
It was a dejected Team Limey that curled up with its warm milks last Saturday night. The closest thing to a shock that day from the 23 FA Cup third-round knockout matches was third-tier Millwall holding second-tier Derby to a 1-1 draw at home. We were as bored as a monk's todger.
But "the romance of the cup" is a cliché for good reason, and Sunday provided one of the greatest upsets in years. Leeds United beating Manchester United at the turn of the century would have raised few eyebrows -- back then Leeds, league champion in 1992 and Champions League semifinalist in 2001, was in its prime.
Things are much different now at Elland Road. Following bankruptcy and relegation to the third tier of English football, no one gave Leeds a chance going into Sunday's match, even if the team was 15 games unbeaten and leading League One. But Leeds star man
If would be naive to question if, based on that one result, United is a team on the wane. But this was certainly not its first mishap this season. The last time Man. Utd lost five of its first 20 Premier League games was in 2002-03. And despite the team's current position, just two points off the pace, it looks like a shadow of the team that won the last three EPL titles.
The warning signs were there when Barcelona scythed United apart in the Champions League final last year, and the squad hasn't been rebuilt sufficiently since then. The average age of its regular first team is now older than 30, and of the starters, only Rooney (24),
Debt levels at the club seemingly have resulted in
At the back,
United's ability to bounce back from the Leeds defeat was set to be tested at Manchester City in their Carling Cup semifinal first leg this past Wednesday, but heavy snowfall and temperatures as low as 7 degrees put that plan on hold. And perhaps it was just as well. Ferguson's men would have been facing a City team that, under new manager
Except it wouldn't. United is a top-class side with a world-class manager and several world-class players, who, on their day, can mesmerize. Our point is this: Just as when United flopped out of the Champions League in '05-06, we think it's time for the club to rebuild. Either of the Spanish giants likely would dispatch it in the Champions League, while being only two points from the EPL summit says more about Chelsea's inconsistency than United's form.
The other Carling Cup semi between Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers was also postponed due to the weather amid surprising rumors that a pack of dogs was readying itself to pull a sleigh containing Villa's lumbering target man,
Unlike United, Chelsea hasn't recently lost any key players. But like United, Chelsea's first team is aging, with
Looking down the table, Arsenal has a points tally close to what we expected. That its game in hand could take it above United and only a point behind Chelsea is predominantly a sign of United's and Chelsea's failings, not Arsenal's success. Credit is due to the Gunners, though, for winning five of their last six EPL games despite an injury list that has contained
While we don't see Arsenal hoisting the EPL trophy this season,
However, their key Christmas Day matchup with Aston Villa showed the Gunners are still overly reliant on their captain to turn or dictate a game. With the match still scoreless in the 57th minute, Wenger gambled by bringing in a half-fit Fàbregas off the bench. The Spaniard duly scored the game's only two goals before coming off injured 27 minutes later. Unsurprisingly, rumors of Fàbregas' exit to one of the Spanish giants continue to persist, with a swap deal involving Real Madrid's Argentine striker,
Fàbregas' potential exit would be a huge blow to the club, but could be mitigated quickly by rapidly improving replacement
On the Merseyside, Liverpool's dependence on
Liverpool's woes should provide stark warning to the other "Big Four" clubs that an increasing over-reliance on key players could threaten the recent dominance EPL clubs have enjoyed in the Champions League. That point is driven home even further when you consider that defending European champion Barcelona reinforced this past offseason with
Meanwhile, domestically, although a less imminent threat, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Aston Villa are starting to challenge at the top. If City wins its game in hand, Mancini's men would jump to fourth place, and the club certainly has the financial muscle to buy the players in January to keep them there. A perhaps jaded
Last time around, we started
Fair comment, but we're sure that Capello, one of the most experienced and decorated coaches, may have some influence on the result, John! He goes on to to make the same point as the previous letter around the two sides of the U.S. team: "If the U.S. squad that needed a 96th-minute
Keep your banter and foot fetishes coming to