LONDON – The best league in the world?
The evidence is diminishing.
The most exciting?
If you are playing the Premier League’s finest in the Champions League, yes, because chances are you will win. At the end of the worst week in Europe’s elite tournament for English clubs in 10 years, the credibility of the Premier League has been questioned.
While United came back from 0-2 to defeat Braga 3-2 and continue find a way to win when below its best, the other English representatives failed their European tests miserably.
Chelsea was outplayed by a hugely impressive Shakhtar Donetsk, who won 2-1, leaving the reigning champions’ progress in the balance.
Manager Roberto Mancini conceded Manchester City need “a miracle” to reach the knockout stages after losing 3-1 to Ajax, the Italian taking the blame for “not preparing properly.”
How the manager of the richest club in the world fails to prepare properly for a Champions League game will no doubt interest City’s oil-rich owners.
The players are clearly unhappy with Mancini’s tactics, with three changes of formation during the game in Amsterdam.
Arsenal assistant manager Steve Bould claimed the team looked “tired” — in October? — as Schalke 04 coasted to a 2-0 victory.
Defensively, all four English clubs showed alarming frailties individually and collectively not exposed at home. Though United won, it fell behind for the eighth time in 12 games this season, not the consistency Sir Alex Ferguson is looking for.
The Scot got away with resting Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra five days before the top-of-the-table clash with Chelsea, which has made the best start in its history.
If Chelsea beats United on Sunday, the domestic title race will leave the Blues seven points ahead of the visitors with a third of the program played, and while the title is not won in October, Ferguson knows it would be a significant lead to overhaul.
Chelsea’s attacking midfield trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar has been in devastating form domestically and with United able to call on Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Nani a goal-less draw is unlikely.
United has conceded 11 goals to Chelsea’s six and Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech said: “United will probably play much the same way as Shakhtar. We didn’t deal with that, so hopefully it will serve as a lesson for the weekend.”
City, which with self-interest in mind will hope for a United win at Stamford Bridge to peg back Chelsea, has what appears a more straightforward task against Swansea at Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Likewise Arsenal, which entertains basement club Queens Park Rangers. But history is against the ninth-placed Gunners winning the title. No would-be champions have triumphed having won fewer than 14 points after eight games. Arsenal has 12.
HAD JOHN TERRY been found guilty in a court of law of making a racially aggravated remark at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand, the maximum fine the Chelsea captain could have been handed was £2,500.
While everyone outside of Stamford Bridge believes the four-game ban Terry received was lenient and Chelsea should have stripped him of the armband, his club and the Football Association have fined the former England international around £500,000.
An increasing number of black players feel football is not doing enough against racism, but the game if not the court found Terry guilty, leaving an indelible stain on his CV and the defender half a million pounds worse off for his sins.
Yes, he should have been banned for eight matches, but Terry had hardly got off lightly. His legal fees to defend his court case ran to close on £1 million, so for an offense which football found him guilty Terry is £1.5 million worse off. The sympathy vote is in very short supply.
This correspondent has criticized the F.A. for leniency as far as on-field violence is concerned, but accusations that they have anything less than zero tolerance towards racism are difficult to substantiate.
The threat of a breakaway union, apparently the brainchild of Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand with the working name of The Federation Of Black Players, is misguided and proof that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
A joint statement by Rio and Anton Ferdinand said that “the past year has exposed some of the deep divisions that exist in football” and they have been left disappointed “by the PFA and F.A.’s actions” without being specific, so we are none the wiser to their precise frustrations.
Kick It Out, the organization that some black players believe does not fully represent their interests, is caught in the crossfire of their anger towards the F.A.
KIO, which does sterling work running the anti-racism campaign on a shoestring, the Professional Footballers’ Association or any new union will have no disciplinary powers. I respect any player’s choice whether to wear the KIO T-shirt, but the refusal of two dozen or so was aiming at the wrong target.
There have been suggestions that the three-man Independent Regulatory Commission (which is not an official F.A. body) was lenient on Terry because they were all white and he is English, unlike Liverpool’s Uruguay international Luis Suarez, who was banned for eight matches for a racist remark at Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
That was because Suarez said the offending word eight times, rather than Terry’s lone utterance.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.