In a world where everything is abnormal, not to be left out, English football is also beginning to detach from its normality.
The favourites are no longer favourites; the so-called ‘smaller teams’ are rising, and the previous giants are awakening all whilst fans are forced to sit at home and watch as the fake fan noise replaces their passion.
Most changes in this current world are difficult to watch, but, the transitional period in which English football is going through, is for the better.
English Football: Going Through a Transitional Phase for the Better
The Season of Underdogs
The pandemic has prevented the riches from flexing their financial muscles. Instead, it has advocated for the arrival of underdog stories from teams such as Leicester City, West Ham United and Aston Villa.
The script of the classic ‘top six’ has been torn to pieces. Instead, it has been replaced by the refreshingly unpredictable Premier League. But this change does not stem from the top flight.
The re-written script has been drawn out by those in Championship, who gain promotion to not only survive but to progress, and play good football whilst doing so.
And English football, at the top level, is benefitting from this.
Whilst Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal have struggled this season, perhaps due to the restrictions of spending in the pandemic, teams such as West Ham have thrived. Under David Moyes, the Hammers are above the champions and fighting for a European place.
The same can be said for Aston Villa. Last season, it took until the final day for their survival to be confirmed. This season, they, like West Ham, are battling for Europe having earned victories over Arsenal and Liverpool.
Perhaps the greatest story yet is Leicester City’s. Last season, they came ever so close to Champions League qualification but to miss out on the final day of the season. This time around, they have just beaten the champions to go six points clear in third.
Reaping the Rewards for Good Football
There was a time when, as part of the Premier League script, the ‘lesser sides’ would place 11 men behind the ball, launch it long and scrap their way to a point or two every so often.
In fairness, the tactic worked for most sides; there is a reason Sam Allardyce has never been relegated. But those days are gone.
Allardyce’s tactic is beginning to fall short. Instead, those that aim to play the neat, tidy, but risky football, are reaping the rewards. West Brom find themselves 12 points adrift of safety. Meanwhile, Leeds United, a team that represent the changing of the times, find themselves in the comforts of mid-table.
Brighton are another example. On so many occasions, people have called for Graham Potter to take the safer approach of sitting back, but he stuck to his guns; implemented his style of play, and is on course for comfortable survival as a result.
Managers and teams such as West Brom are planning for the short term, whilst the likes of Potter and Brighton are ensuring both current survival and long term progression in the Premier League.
As each season goes by, too, fewer teams are taking the safer approach and, more are taking to the game with ambition needed for the long term.
Championship Also Playing a Part in Transitioning English Football
The phasing out of ‘long ball’ and deep-lying teams in the Premier League is well underway, and, as West Brom’s reality of relegation continues to grow, the transition will near its completion.
The Premier League has played a part in this transition, yes, but the change stems from the difference in approach from Championship sides.
Instead of showcasing their footballing ability in the second tier to earn promotion before reverting back to the safer approach in the top flight, teams are sticking to their identity.
Fulham are a prime example of this, and, in small glimpses, they have reaped the rewards. At the end of the season, they may suffer relegation, but, they have stuck to their identity. They can come away with the pride of playing football suitable for the top division.
Scott Parker can come away having showcased his managerial talents with a limited squad. And, ultimately, because they have stuck to their identity, they will be in a position to go again.
The aforementioned Leeds United kept their ‘Bielsa ball’ identity, and it’s paying dividends. And, the crop of teams likely to gain promotion from the Championship look likely to follow suit.
Norwich, like Fulham, didn’t sway from their approach last season before suffering relegation. Having kept that approach, they sit primed and ready for another season in the Premier League. Brentford, similarly, play football worthy of the ‘new Premier League’.
The same can be said for Swansea City and Bournemouth as well as others, too. The fact is, we are seeing a growing number of teams scrap the defensive approach and prepare to take the fight to the giants of the Premier League.
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