As Chelsea’s players trooped out of the Etihad with their tails very much between their legs after yet another heavy drubbing, they faced the grim prospect of another season outside the Premier League’s top four.
Obviously nothing is settled yet, but with the Stamford Bridge club tumbling like a stricken Neymar Jr, down to sixth place in the table, they find themselves in a tussle for Champions League qualification, in which they look, at present, incapable of winning.
Big three, big problems
While Chelsea go into meltdown, it would be unfair to say the same for their city rivals, Arsenal. Unai Emery has done some good work at The Emirates this season. His new look Gunners have impressed at times, but that frail undercarriage remains for all to see as they struggle to stop shipping the goals.
Like Chelsea, they are by no means finished in the race for the top four, but even the most optimistic Arsenal sympathizer would not put their money on the red half of North London seeing a return to Champions League via the top four spots. Those reports of just £40 million to spend in the summer will be about as welcome as Sergio Ramos in the Mo Salah household as well. Arsenal fans will be desperately hoping to see a bit more invested if they are to compete on any level, any time soon.
As the current London flag flyers for the top four, Spurs have enjoyed yet another impressive season, while they continue to defy the odds under Pochettino. Despite spending less money than a number of Championship clubs, Tottenham remain just five points off the top spot and on course for a yet another season in the Champions League. The elephant in the room though remains Pochettino’s future.
With the Old Trafford summer vacancy looming large on the horizon, projected against a landscape of austerity in North London, the Argentine’s long-term future is not as cast iron as Spurs fans would like. With this uncertainty affecting the big three London clubs, we could be set to see the balance of power tip very much in favour of the North West’s powerhouse clubs. Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, could be presented with a wonderful chance to cement their places as the new “Big Three” and usher in a new phase of Northern dominance.
Nothing is certain in football. Their remains a lot of variables in place to keep the current order in check, however, you cannot ignore the crumbling foundations of the London elite. The question is, can these damaged roots be repaired and the big London cohorts remain truly competitive?
In the short term, things are not so rosy down south. Tottenham’s new stadium will make the club self-sufficient in the long run, but those £237 million loans will need repaying and the reported £850 million outlay on the entire project will hamstring the club’s capacity to sign key players in future windows.
As Arsene Wenger discovered from 2006, these shiny new stadia are one massive hole in the club finances until they start becoming a viable revenue stream. If Pochettino decides he is happy to work under these restraints he will no doubt cement his status as a Spurs legend, but he will struggle to keep his team as regular fixtures in the top four. If they lose even just one or two of their stars, they simply don’t have the capital to reinvest with suitable new recruits.
Chelsea continue to be a conundrum in general. Off the pitch mixed messages remain about Roman Abramovich’s long-term desire to stay on as the club’s sugar daddy. Then again, with Christian Pulisic secured for big money in January, these rumours may be a tad premature. Either way, as the club continues to falter under Maurizio Sarri, it seems only a matter of time before the plug is pulled on the Italian manager. Perhaps the Europa League remains a viable route to the Champions League for the Blues, however their squad better be prepared for one hell of a slog if that is their plan.
Not so grim up north
All of this uncertainty is a stark contrast to the wonderful football and unbridled positivity coming out of Liverpool and Manchester. Even at Old Trafford, things are a lot brighter now than they were in December. If they can make a success of that all important next managerial step in May, then they could be very much back in title contention with such an impressive attacking threat up front.
Man City’s wealth is eye watering, as is their wonderfully talented squad. They remain on course to win another sack full of trophies this season and are a beacon for the world’s top talent with Pep Guardiola pulling the strings. Legacy building seems to be the order of the day.
Down the M62 and Liverpool continue to shake off that malaise that crippled the club from 2009 to 2015. Weak commercial performances off the field as well as some pretty woeful results on it, left the Anfield outfit in danger of sinking in a fashion not too dissimilar to Aston Villa, Leeds and Newcastle.
Fast forward four years and the club has just announced a world record net profit of £106 million as they battle City for the Premier League title with their most universally popular manager in thirty years at the wheel. With further stadium expansion in the works and some smart people like Michael Edwards pulling the transfer strings, things aren’t looking too bad at all at Anfield these days.
Again, there is a lot to get right and wrong along the way, but with the future competitiveness of London’s big clubs up in the air, it does present a massive chance for their rivals to capitalize. If the North West’s big three can carry on this upward trajectory they may well go on to leave their London rivals with stiff necks as they look up with envious eyes.