Sunday’s match between Wigan and Man City displayed further evidence of the potential for this season resulting in the most wide open title chase in Premier League history. Wigan provided a performance full of doggedness, combined with neat passing football to argue their case that they should have claimed all three points. This was typified with Wigan’s opener as Shay Given parried Hugo Rodallega’s low shot to Charles N’Zogbia, who gratefully tapped into an empty net.
It was no more than Wigan deserved after an accomplished and organised first half performance. This counted for nothing after 63 seconds of the second half as Martin Petrov guided the ball into the bottom corner after being set up by Carlos Tevez. Hard-working Wigan forced City to retreat into their own half as the game wore on, looking like the more likely winners after the sending off of full-back Pablo Zabaleta for a second bookable offence. Given denied Rodallega with only a minute left to play with a superb save from the Wigan striker’s close range volley
The game may not be a telling sign of City’s progress after contrasting fortunes for the top two this season, with Manchester United demolishing Wigan 5-0 and Chelsea being condemned to a battling 3-1 defeat. However, after another round of Premier League matches, it appears that the predictability of each match involving one of the big teams is becoming more volatile. Both Chelsea and Liverpool succumbed to away defeats against teams who currently occupy top eight status – recording their second and fourth losses respectively of this term.
City displayed the steel which is important to claim vital points away from home in keeping momentum moving in the right direction. The addition of £100m of talent has seemingly combined the grit and determination of Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong with the class and flair of players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez. With the big four failing to display any supremacy over their Premier League rivals below them, these teams appear to have spotted an opportunity to strike and finally break the mould that has been cast at the top of table for many years. An influx of money into top half teams is closing the gap between the top four, with as it stands, seven teams vying for four coveted positions.
Aston Villa and City are emerging as the most threatening in matches against the top four, pushing their opposition to their absolute limit, highlighted by Michael Owen’s heartbreaking last minute winner in the Manchester derby. The two teams played out a 1-1 draw at Villa Park in an entertaining encounter, which showcased the talent that just may disturb the established order of the Premier League.
The common element of teams immediately outside the top four and even lower in the table appears to be a lack of fear when playing the top teams on their own ground. Looking at the Premier League table, each of the top teams has lost one or more games away from home. Chelsea’s exemplary away record from last term has been replaced by more uncertain form after two away defeats in succession. Liverpool possess similar fortunes with three defeats out of five matches. Even the Premier League champions have displayed vulnerability away from home in losing to Burnley. The point is that the teams in the Premier League are displaying a level of tenacity and willingness to battle the top teams head on, which sees them grind out results with determined performances when blessed with home advantage. Burnley exhibit this mentality perfectly with four home victories contrasted with five away defeats.
The mould for the top four places this season is certainly not cast as the battle for supremacy appears to be a long one, with the victors at this stage somewhat uncertain. The thoughts of Mark Hughes in his post match interview yesterday look as if they will be echoed by other managers. Huge importance will be placed on every single point as the potential for teams in the top half of the table to cause ruptures upwards increases with every round of matches. The overall standard of the Premier league appears to be growing and one thing is certain – the top teams are in for a bumpy ride.