While the two Manchester clubs eased to wins, for the second week in a row Chelsea were rescued by their pantomime villain Diego Costa with a late winner and last season’s top two Leicester and Arsenal played out a bore draw in which both sides seemed more concerned with not losing. The big shock of the weekend came at Turf Moor where Liverpool returned to their ‘consistent-inconsistency’ and despite 80% possession couldn’t find a response to the concession of two first half goals, both of which were a result of being pressed and caught in possession playing out from the back. As much as an inability to convert ball control into goals, the defensive frailty that has seen his side give away 5 goals in 2 matches must be of equal concern to the gregarious German coach.
Away from the pitch Liverpool were involved in one of the major stories of the weekend with the Sunday Times suggesting that the club were to be the target of an £800m takeover bid from a Chinese consortium involving state-backed companies. The story did seem to carry some credence with its originator Johnathan Northcroft outlining the background to it on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement show; whatever the truth the very fact that the story received almost as much coverage as the result at Burnley indicates the changing way in which the Premier League is being seen. Such an investment would instantly catapult Liverpool, or any other club for that matter, to the very top of the Premier League rich list.
Despite Leicester’s success last season, it seems to be increasingly accepted that the only way that a club can hope to match the Manchester clubs and Chelsea at home and the Spanish giants and Bayern abroad is to find some way of elevating their financial footing to be at least on a par with these mega-rich clubs. As a result, we as supporters are almost forced to have as much regard for the financial firepower of our club as for the quality of the play and success on the field. In many ways the modern Premier League follower has to be as au fait with balance sheets and business parlance as with tactics and formations.
We stand less than a week away from the three-ring circus that is transfer deadline day (or as the running joke goes, as us Arsenal fans like to call it… Wednesday!), when despite the astronomical sums already spent, clubs’ ambitions are judged on the back of the cash that is thrown around; nothing sums up the nature of the cash-bloated self-styled greatest league in the world as this football equivalent of a Christmas Eve trolley dash.
On a personal note, and not solely as a result of my own club’s tendency for conscientious abstention from the hoopla, I can’t help but feel that the game that I love has changed beyond all recognition. The major impact of the Premier League lucre has been to attract a dubious crowd of owners more interested in using clubs as cash cows rather than in achievements on the pitch, (yes Mr Kroenke this means you!), and a loss of the spirit of the game as the power has been handed to players and agents.
The brilliant thing about Leicester winning the League last year was that for the first time since Blackburn in 1995 there was a shake-up in the accepted order of things and that just for once league positions didn’t automatically correspond with financial resources available. However even at this early stage of the season it feels that the Foxes’ achievement was a one-off, a blip brought about by a freak set of circumstances, and that this year will see a return to the normal way of things; although Hull City fans may continue to dream, at least until they host Man United on Saturday evening.