Expect the unexpected from one of best Premier League campaigns
There were two bars, kitty-corner to one another, on a plaza tucked just off the main drag of the glittering Marienplatz. In one corner there was an open atrium with heaters and plenty of tables - and the Bundesliga on TV. In the other, there were broken bottles, no chairs, a few people rolling down the carpeted staircase into the basement – and hardly a place to stand.
Liverpool-Chelsea was coming on in five minutes, and the owner of the nice, clean, posh and empty bar raised an eyebrow and sighed at me. "The match, it is over there," he said in German, with more than a trace of weariness â but my back was already to him, and I was already pushing my way through the pack.
The Bundesliga race is over, and has been now for some time. But if you ever needed an illustration of how powerful and compelling the Premier League has become, you could have found a fine one here yesterday in the heart of Bayern Munich’s territory. While the shops are garlanded in the club’s red and white and you can even espy little 1860’s sky blue strips here and there, the red scarves about on Sunday belonged to Liverpool - and the sky blue to Manchester City. From 3 in the afternoon until 7 the pubs were packed, and with good reason. Englandâs title race is now wide open and what happens over the next week will define what has been perhaps the tightest race in memory.
Chelsea’s smash-and-grab at Anfield on Sunday was a triumph of tactics and pragmatism over grace. Yep, Jose Mourinho parked the bus, and yes, his side wasted time from the opening whistle. It was spot on, negating Liverpool’s famed blitz and getting under this still-young side’s skin to boot. After Demba Ba scored - ironically in first-half stoppage time - Liverpool never looked like they were going to win this game. The emotion and the tide had turned too far at Anfield, and what has been the loudest stadium in England was oddly quiet.
Manchester City took full advantage, pouncing on Crystal Palace from the start behind the power of Yaya Toure and reminding everyone why the Sky Blues were the pre-season favorites to win this whole thing. It should not be overlooked that Palace, never a marquee name, have been one of the hottest teams in the league, with five straight wins having carried them to safety. Among the scalps they collected lay Chelsea’s and Everton’s so City’s ruthless performance here should not be explained away as a case of Goliath feasting on an ort.
This next week is now likely to define the contours of this race and all eyes will be on Liverpool, albeit across Stanley Park. Everton and Manchester City face each other in a must-win match for both teams Saturday as the Toffees look to avenge the 3-1 thumping they took at the Etihad last October. Chelsea have the chance to sink Norwich for good on Sunday and in the process stay in touch with the title race while Liverpool must rebound against Palace in London on Monday. City will then play a critical game on Wednesday against Aston Villa that may just wrap up the crown.
But planning ahead and making assumptions about the Premier League this year has so far proved foolish. This, after all, is a year in which Manchester United stood revealed as just another club, a year that has seen the rehabilitation of Luis Suarez, and a year that has seen ten managers sent packing. The conventional wisdom about this league has repeatedly been proven wrong and with three teams now jockeying for the title with but three points between them only a fool would pick one at this juncture.
That unpredictability, of course, is why one bar in the heart of Munich was deserted while another - where precious little German was being spoken -was packed to the shingles.
Say what you like about boring, boring Chelsea, about reckless Arsenal, or about the futility of this yearâs aggregation at Old Trafford. Say what you will about the awfulness of watching Stoke or West Ham, particularly head to head. And make whatever hipster comparisons you wish between the hack and tumble we see at White Hart Lane and the grace on offer at the BayArena.
The Premier League. That’s entertainment.