Changing of the Guard: The Best Stories of The Premier League Season (So Far)

Leonardo Ulloa

This Premier League Season has thrown a lot of surprises at football fans worldwide. Few expected Chelsea to fall from grace as incredibly as they have in the last six months – and even fewer would predict Leicester City holding the number one position in the league come February.

Yes, indeed, this season has been one to remember. While pundits continue to echo the near-sighted cliché that “this season has been one of the best ever” year after year, the 2015/2016 league season may just stand out as one to remember for a long time to come.

There are many stories that are worthy of note in 2015/2016. Here are the most intriguing stories that the Premier League Season has conjured through the first 23 games.

Manchester United Are Awful

I begin with this story because perhaps it is the least unexpected. In the post-Fergie era, United have had little to gloat about. They currently sit a humbling fifth place in the Premier League table, recording an abysmal 37 points through 23 games – their worst points total through as many games in Premier League History. Truly, even David Moyes and his lacklustre league campaign set a better standard.

United fans (myself included) can be forgiving of a manager for not getting results, to an extent. Many supporters cannot, however, get behind the turgid and lifeless brand of football that the squad is currently providing.

In their previous 11 games, United has recorded 10 goalless first halves, and one remarkable losing demonstration to Norwich at Old Trafford, in which the visitors lead 0-1 at halftime, through a Cameron Jerome counter-attack goal. Simply put, Manchester United cannot score goals.

This season they have 28 goals for, three of which came from the penalty spot (another strange stat that highlights their final-third impotency), and have recorded a 1.22 goals per game scoring ratio. They have been one of the worst teams to watch in the league this season, and the blame falls quite obviously at the feet of the soon-to-be unemployed Louis Van Gaal.

Chelsea Are Even Worse

After an inspiring win at Arsenal this past weekend, Chelsea find themselves sitting thirteenth in the league, and a staggering 19 points off first place. This season will be one to forget for Blues fans.

It is difficult to pin down the true cause of Chelsea’s demise. Jose Mourinho took the biggest share of the blame, and eventually, continuing his trend of suffering from third season syndrome, was fired.

Now Guus Hiddink steps in, who, despite a number of recent failures, will be welcomed back to Stamford Bridge warmly. His successes there are noted and cherished.

It has now been seven games since Hiddink took the reins, and he has found reasonable success. He has not lost a game as of yet, but is struggling to win. His seven games include four draws, including the aforementioned away win at Arsenal.

It seems that a top four position is well out of reach for the Blues, but with many top-10 teams having a form pattern that trends downwards, a higher league finish is not out of the realm of possibility. Chelsea have only a home game against Manchester United and two away fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester City respectively, among a string of very winnable games to close out this remarkable Premier League season.

Leicester City Are First in February

Leicester City just don’t lose games. They are sitting, quite extraordinarily, in first place in the Premier League. Spearheaded by the great goal scoring of Jamie Vardy, who leads the league with 16 goals, and the fantastic play of Ryad Mahrez, Leicester have applied a classic brand of football, playing a 4-4-2, equipped with pace on the wings, grit in the midfield, and a strong back four that allows very few goals.

With Vardy, Leicester are guaranteed to bother Premier League defenders all season. The aspect of Leicester’s attack that truly makes teams struggle is not just the quick and instinctive play of Vardy, however. Ulloa and Okazaki have proven to be great foils to the pace and bothersome play of Leicester’s number nine.

Okazaki and Ulloa never play together, but they often compliment Vardy by providing strength, back-to-goal play, and prowess in the air. Leicester have very effectively applied a classic version of English football to great effect.

This style has been mimicked by upstart teams such as Watford, who have more than held their own by playing a strong, tough, and hard-working eleven thats highlighted by the great forward combination of Ighalo and Deeney.

The League is Changing

To this point in the season, we have seen the Premier League make a massive shift in style of play. The English game has always been brandished with the title of tough and physical, and founded on pace and strength. Not since the 90s has this title been more appropriate.

Leicester are first because they have unleashed a style of play that the big teams cannot cope with. It has been a real culture shock for defenders, and it is a refreshing change of pace for what was becoming a relatively predictable league.

This is not to say that the Premier League’s biggest names will fall off the pace for the long term. Perhaps we will start to see the bigger clubs adopting this style of play, much like Atletico Madrid have done behind the intelligence of Diego Simeone. Either way, the Premier League is changing, and the league is better off for it.

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