EPL: Day 34, Part 2 (Portsmouth 1 – Manchester United 0)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 16th, 2004 • 11:59 pm

Well, much has been made of the alleged crises at Arsenal and Real Madrid following their Champions’ League exits 10 days ago. But Arsenal have responded beautifully by maintaining their unbeaten record in the league and scoring a cornucopia of goals. And it remains to be seen whether Real Madrid’s title chances really are in jeopardy.

On the other hand, surely some people must start worrying about Manchester United… It looks like their season is just fizzling out. Granted, it’s not like Portsmouth were all over them or anything like that. But objectively, in spite of the presence in the team of the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Solskjaer, and Ronaldo, they really didn’t manage to create much in terms of clearcut chances. It was a heroic performance by Portsmouth, but nobody can argue that they didn’t deserve their win, and they are the ones who looked more likely to score a second goal in the final minutes of the game.

Sure, Manchester United don’t have much left to play for in the league. Their Champions’ League qualification is pretty much assured, due to the gap between 3rd and 4th place. (I suppose that they are arrogant enough to think that they’ll have no trouble getting through the Champions’ League qualifying stage that is mandatory for 3rd and 4th place teams.) And they had no hope of catching up with Arsenal after drawing 1-1 with them at Highbury 3 weeks ago.

But still! At the tail end of last season, when Arsenal had nothing left to play for, they responded by thrashing Southampton 6-1! It was pretty much a useless win, but it was a response that made their fans proud. And now that the title is pretty much in the pocket, you wouldn’t put it past the Gunners to continue their current run and finish in superb style, even though, technically, they don’t have much to play for either except for that unbeaten run record.

Compare this to the response of the Man U players. They don’t have anything to play for — except for their million-pound salaries, that is — and it shows. You cannot help but wonder whether Alex Ferguson’s “hair blower” treatment approach has its limits in terms of motivating players. Where is the pride? Where is the desire to win? Where is the desire to entertain and play with style and panache? Arsenal have always had the edge in that department, but now it’s starting to look like an enormous gap.

Of course, Manchester is still very likely to win the FA Cup… but Milwall can always hope that their opponents will not be able to muster the kind of motivation that enabled them to beat the Gunners in the semi-finals. Where’s the glory in beating Milwall?

While, for Arsenal fans, the season has been a bit of a roller-coaster of emotions, at least they can still rightfully argue that the Gunners are by far the best team in the country and fully deserve the title. I am not sure what conclusions should be drawn from Manchester United’s season… Do they need new players? A new manager? With or without the FA Cup, these questions will remain at least until the start of the next season. And that, in my opinion, is much closer to a “crisis” than the situation at Highbury or in Madrid.

4 Responses to “EPL: Day 34, Part 2 (Portsmouth 1 – Manchester United 0)”

  1. Pierre Igot says:

    The relegation system is pretty simple. Every year, the bottom three teams in the EPL at the end of the season drop to the lower league, i.e. the English First Division. Conversely, the top 2 teams of the First Division get automatically promoted to the EPL for the next season. For the third team, the 3rd-6th place teams in the First Division have to duke it out during a “play-off” round. Only one of the four play-off teams — the winner of the play-off round — gets promoted.

    The same system — more or less — exists in other European leagues, although the “play-off” thing appears to be unique to England. There is no play-off round in France, for example. The bottom three teams of the Ligue 1 go down, and the top three teams of the Ligue 2 go up.

    As for the business side of things, relegation is obviously a big disaster financially for relegated teams. Playing in the top league provides lots of additional revenue (TV broadcasts, attendance, etc.). Also, each team has players that are not interested at all in playing in a lower league and leave the team. So it’s not always easy to go down one year and come back up the next year.

    It’s a pretty fair system that ensures that there is always “new blood” in the top league, and it’s also a way for relatively unknown players in newly promoted team to get exposure and hopefully (from their point of view) be snatched away by more prestigious teams.

    I must admit that I find it hard to imagine a league system that would be “anti-relegation”. If there is no hope for lowly teams to ever get promoted, where’s the motivation to excel? Where is the dream of making it on the big scene? And where is the challenge for weaker teams in the top league? Strange.

    Hope this answers your question. I am no specialist, I am just a football fan who thinks that the current system in Europe is pretty good, and obviously finds European football much more entertaining than the MLS or the A-League :).

  2. Warren Beck says:

    It is clear now that David Beckham read the tea leaves in plenty of time to make arrangements to get out of town before things really decayed. Or is it that Beckham started the process? (I’ll bet van Nistlerooy regrets his saying that he’s staying put at United for the duration, see this link).

    You have to admit that the EPL is interesting every year. I’m glad that Fox Sports World broadcasts two or three games a week–it makes the MLS league here in the states look rather primitive.

    Pierre: perhaps you could write a piece on how the relegation business works. We do not have this yet in the states in any league. (I think that Major League Baseball would benefit from relegation; I would like to see the Philadelphia Phillies sent down to the AAA level, they deserve it.) In the NBA, they appear to have anti-relegation: the worst teams get to make the first draft choices for the next season.

  3. Warren Beck says:

    Pierre: Thanks! I will look forward to the playoff round, then. I think the relegation system would be good for the American professional sports scene. At this point, the MLS doesn’t work with the A league in having a relegation/promotion system, I guess . The minor leagues in professional baseball actually serve the “big teams” in the majors by providing farm or developmental teams.

    As to my concept of anti-relegation, it does seem that the american professional basketball and “football” have to go to some lengths to insure a high quality of play and effort. They share television money and other monies from advertising so as to improve profitablity for teams in small metropolitan areas. The inverted draft system does insure that the less accomplished teams get good new players. But their closed league system seems rather un-democratic, whereas the system in place in european soccer (sorry, football) does result in interesting pairings late in the season at least at the top and bottom of the league tables. Again, I think that some of the pro teams in the U.S. would benefit from being relegated.

    Thanks again for explaining the system–I didn’t know about the playoff, for instance, and I hope that some of those games are televised here. I also enjoy your periodic discussions about the EPL.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    You’re welcome :). The relegation system is not perfect, but it does seem more “democratic” and provides some decent entertainment (when “smaller” teams manage an upset, like Portsmouth against Man U yesterday) — although the amounts of money involved in the game these days do tend to distort the situation quite a bit (Chelsea being a prime example). There can be the occasional upset, but there’s just no way that smaller teams can compete with the big ones on a regular basis. The big ones end up forming a kind of “league within the league”.

    The English Division 1 play-offs are televised here in Canada, but I’m not sure about the US. I’d keep checking the usually reliable SoccerTV.com mailings for the latest updates.

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