Premier League turmoil – is it down to money or managers?
Leicester, Crystal Palace and Watford are on course for glory, but the big clubs could bounce back next term
As Leicester City close in on a shock Premier League title, there was more evidence of a changing of the guard in English football when it was confirmed that either Watford or Crystal Palace will appear in the FA Cup final.
Neither of the two clubs, which met in the Championship promotion play-off in 2013, have ever won the trophy, but one of them will be heading for Wembley after they were drawn against each other in the semi-finals.
It means there is a very real chance that both the Premier League and FA Cup will be won by so-called "small clubs" that have never won the titles before.
At the same time the "big clubs" appear to be in decline. Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea could all miss out on European football next season, while Manchester City and Arsenal have been left behind by Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester and are in danger of being caught by West Ham.At the other end of the table, two former giants of the English game, Aston Villa and Newcastle, could be relegated, while all three of last season's promoted clubs could stay up for only the third time in Premier League history.
Part of the reason for this apparent levelling of the playing field is the amount of money sloshing around in the Premier League. The £5bn TV deal signed last year is the icing on the cake, but English teams already dominate the European money league.
"Every side that has been in the Premier League for the past two seasons (17) is now in the top 30 biggest earners in world football, with only those promoted and relegated last year left on the sidelines," reported the Daily Telegraph in January. "It is now all but inevitable that, come the end of next season – figures for which will be published in the 2018 Money League – all 20 Premier League teams will be inside that top 30."
That explains why a mid-table team such as Stoke City have been able to lure the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri from Bayern Munich and Bojan from Barcelona.
However, this season has also seen a power vacuum develop at the top of the table.
Chelsea's collapse appears to have been precipitated by the poisonous nature of Jose Mourinho's regime at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City have all been led by men in their sixties this term and it has shown.
Their uninspiring campaigns "can all be defined, with varying degrees of extremity, by stubbornness, regressive tactics that no longer hold up to scrutiny, and a predictable way of playing", writes Alex Keble for the football website Umaxit. "They are all teams stagnating whilst the younger generation – Quique Flores, Mauricio Pochettino, Slaven Bilic, Jurgen Klopp – overflow with creative energy."
With the exception of Klopp, who is still finding his feet at Liverpool, those managers have taken unfancied clubs to new heights.
Next season, the big guns will have equivalents. Pep Guardiola will be at Man City, Antonio Conte seems likely to be at Chelsea and there will be new blood at Man United. Even Arsenal may be forced into a change and that could go some way to restoring the natural order.
Either money or managers has caused this season's turmoil. Not until next season will we discover which one.