There’s no doubt this Premier League title race has been the closest for an extremely long time – in my living memory I can’t remember four teams being in such serious contention at this stage of the season. However, this increased competitiveness I think can only be seen as the consequence of the top teams being considerably more flawed than usual; I think the 2014 Champions (whoever they are) will most likely go down as the least flawed of a particularly poor bunch.
It’s this comparative lack of quality and consistency in results however that I think has led to the propagation of an ugly and pointless blame culture that has manifested these past few months, and one which ultimately can only be accentuating the problems from which it was provoked.
For instance, the media and Arsenal fan’s criticism of Mesut Ozil throughout the club’s annual February slump was just crazy. Surely everyone knew from the moment he arrived what his qualities were. It was the German’s lethargic brilliance after all which had galvanised the club and instigated their greatest run in the Premier League for years earlier in the season. It seems incredible to me he should be slaughtered for not helping to press the opposition and running harder in the bigger games – something he’s never even hinted at being able to offer.
Likewise City fan’s denigration of Martin Demichelis who, despite having spent the majority of his career some way above his level, is not as hilariously bad as some would make out, and I think his culpability for his team’s poor results lately has also been unfairly overstated. The Argentine wasn’t bought as a first team player after all and actually hasn’t been any worse than Jolean Lescott or Matija Nastasic this season either.
There have been similar situations to these elsewhere in the league; though worst of all without doubt, has been the treatment of Tom Cleverley by certain United and England fans. The player’s evolution into a symbol of his club’s inadequacies perfectly epitomises the absurdity of this grotesque habit football fans can have of relieving frustration in the form of vindictive and unwarranted blame. Even the suggestion that Cleverley is the person most responsible for his team’s problems is absurd enough; the fact that 12000 people were prepared to sign an online petition banning his participation for the national team utterly defies belief. TalkSport’s tongue-in-cheek response to create a petition for Cleverley to become the next captain of United I thought was appropriate– treating the campaign with all the respect it deserved.
I’m convinced one of the reasons for our relative consistency this year has been our ability to avoid this ridiculous practice of scapegoating certain players (despite having ample opportunity to do so). For a while now, out of all the squad members who don’t play in defence, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard are the only two showing any sort of consistent quality/playing close to their best. And yet there appears to be a greater sense of collectiveness and trust in the players at Chelsea than with any of our title rivals, who rather than accept and work around their problems as we have, continue to frustrate themselves, playing as though the deficiencies in their squad will just go away on their own/or that their strengths will compensate sufficiently.
The reason I’m pointing this out is because following Saturday’s defeat at Aston Villa I think we’re in danger of losing this advantage due to the changes of opinion that can be sensed regarding Ramires – who was as poor as he has been for a while this weekend at VP. There are certain things I think should be realised however, which are: despite his poor form, there is nothing worse about Ramires’ game compared to previous years, he’s still has tactically excellent and technically poor as he always has been – what he offers hasn’t changed. Also, the guy has started 28/30 league matches this season, and so in whatever ways we’ve overachieved/improved this year, he’s owed credit for his contribution. And most importantly, to those who’ve decided to start drawing groundless conclusions over the character/disposition of the player after his red card foul on Karim El Ahmadi, firstly you can’t prove intention, the fact he didn’t break stride in the slightest prior to contact suggests to me that no malice was involved; I also think the very idea that players are making considered conscious decisions when moving at such speed is misguided from the beginning. I’d suggest to anyone who’s opinion of Ramires as a person has lowered after Saturday to read about how he used to work 50 hour weeks as a young boy on building sites in Brazil whilst training to become professional – there’s more to be learned about his character in those interviews/biographies than two or three isolated moments of recklessness, that’s for sure.
Anyway, regarding our standing in the league following Saturday’s result, it’s a fact that we still have the easiest run-in of all the competing sides. If we can recover quickly then there’s no reason we can’t still be a part of the race until the final weeks. Our upcoming fixture at home to Arsenal however as now taken on far greater significance, whilst a win would put us right back into serious contention, a draw or defeat would leave us uncomfortably reliant on Man City to drop points throughout their tough run later this month. And though now seems like a perfectly good time to be playing Arsenal, with Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott and Ozil all unavailable, I’m more nervous than I can rationally explain. I’m not superstitious in the slightest but with next Saturday being Wenger’s 1000th in charge of Arsenal, and after Mourinho’s ‘specialist in failure’ comments, an Arsenal win would seem to the neutrals I imagine, the most poetic way for Mourinho’s 75 game unbeaten run at home in the league to come to an end. It’s the sort of script the sport has been known to produce.