Michael Walker: Five reasons why Premier League is exciting

Leicester and Watford couldn’t be further from doom and gloom surrounding Chelsea

 Leicester fans have created a wonderful atmosphere at the King Power Stadium this season. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Leicester fans have created a wonderful atmosphere at the King Power Stadium this season. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

 

We could dwell on the disappointing and the under-achieving. We could follow – head down and bored – Manchester United’s ramble to the fringes of entertainment under Louis van Gaal. We could try to comprehend Chelsea’s spiral crisis, Manchester City’s inability to maximise the best squad in the division or Tottenham Hotspur’s failure once again to grasp an opportunity.

We could continue to explore a lack of faith in Arsenal getting the job done. Arsène Wenger’s side are seven points better off than after 16 games last season – though two points worse off than the season before. On neither occasion did they even make the runners-up spot.

Will this season be different?

It already is. And rather than focusing on what is going wrong with the elite, here are five positive reasons why Premier League season 2015-16 is intriguing, fresh and challenging our assumptions

1 Leicester City’s stadium atmosphere

In the match programme for the home game against Watford last month, Leicester City’s vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha used his column to thank fans for “the electricity that exists between us”.

Claudio Ranieri said much the same: “I feel very lucky to be the manager of a club that has such electricity between its players, its staff, its owners and its supporters. Please continue to show us that electricity today.”

Leicester’s stadium, capacity 32,300, has suffered the plague of ‘naming rights’. But within it, the club – the team – has generated an atmosphere that is identifiably Leicester City 2015. That is uncommon in modern football.

The prosaic explanation is 30,000 cardboard clappers that are laid out on each sold-out seat before every match. The cost is £12,000 per game.

From this recycled cardboard comes electricity; from something artificial has come something real.

Opened in 2002 as the Walkers Stadium – there were loud objections to the proposed ‘Walkers Bowl’ – the ground lies next door to where Filbert Street stood. It once held 47,000 for an FA Cup tie in the 1920s. Now it’s said that Leicester have considered expanding the current ground to 42,000.

In the good times, that sounds realistic. And times have not been much better than this at Leicester City.

2 Bournemouth’s midfield tempo

There were occasions during last Saturday’s historic victory over Manchester United when Bournemouth’s midfielders were guilty of sloppy passing. But they kept going.

Earlier in the season Dan Gosling ran some 8.5 miles in the match against Sunderland, breaking a Premier League distance record. Gosling has an unusual career trajectory – Plymouth’s first team at 16, Everton before his 18th birthday, then injury at Newcastle, a loan at Blackpool – but back on his native south coast he is flowing. And he is only 25.

Gosling has played in 15 of Bournemouth’s 16 league games and the previous week at Chelsea was consistently involved in the sharp pass-and-go midfield passing that helps define Eddie Howe’s team.

Gosling, Andrew Surman, Matt Ritchie, Junior Stanislas and Harry Arter have all started the last five games. The Cherries were on a bad run then and, somehow, lost the first of those five against Newcastle. There have been two draws and two wins since.

Eunan O’Kane has spoken about Howe’s expectations when midfielders do not have the ball. It has given Bournemouth a tempo and energy lacking in some more notable opponents – see United, Chelsea.

3 Stoke City’s signings

Stoke City now have four former Barcelona players in their squad. Yes, Stoke City, and in addition to the likes of Bojan Krkic and Ibrahim Afellay, Stoke also possess Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Those four names were all on the teamsheet Mark Hughes handed in before facing Manchester City a fortnight ago. Stoke won 2-0.

This is different from Peter Crouch leading the line.

Most of the defensive personnel, and attitude, from the Tony Pulis years have been retained, but Hughes has tweaked the ‘get rid’ emphasis and stressed possession first. Ryan Shawcross is still willing to indulge in physical duels, as Diego Costa discovered in the League Cup, but Stoke sought a new direction after Pulis and Hughes is taking them that way.

Given they are 11th in the league, this praise could seem unwarranted or premature. But Stoke are three points off Tottenham in fifth and have two consecutive home games coming up – Crystal Palace and United.

4 Watford’s strikers

It took 10 games in the Premier League for Troy Deeney to get off the mark, but once he did, against Stoke, the Watford captain quickly lifted his tally to five.

Deeney has played in all Watford’s 16 league games, as has his striker partner Odion Oghalo.

Reliable, durable, it is essential to Watford that the pair last the season.

Oghalo has 10 goals and five of them have been winners. Were it not for Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Watford’s Deeney and Oghalo would be the most talked about pairing in the Premier League.

Like Vardy, Deeney displays an appetite for work that is inspirational to his colleagues. Like Vardy, Deeney was let go at academy level – by Aston Villa, for Vardy it was Sheffield Wednesday – and came back via non-League.

Also like Vardy, there has been a knock on the door from police. Vardy ended up wearing a tag; Deeney ended up in jail. Ten months was the original sentence, though it was cut for good behaviour.

Deeney appears a changed man and the new, impressive Watford manager, Quique Sanchez Flores, has shown adventure and nous in using him and Oghalo together. Facing Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Man City in the next four games would, ordinarily, look like a serious test for Watford. This season, though, it’s a chance for Deeney and Oghalo to score more.

5 Jürgen Klopp

The-48 year-old German’s arrival in English football in mid-October was a flashbulb moment. Brendan Rodgers ran out of games and momentum as Anfield became a vast, quiet waiting room.

In came Klopp. Suddenly the place was buzzing. He called himself “the normal one” but his work at Borussia Dortmund proved that to be modesty – appealing modesty. By the end of the month, Liverpool were winning at Chelsea. The next away game was a 4-1 win at Man City. Then came a 6-1 demolition of Southampton in the League Cup.

Set aside this have been some bang-average performances, particularly at Anfield, and it will be intriguing to see how Liverpool approach Leicester when they meet at Anfield on St Stephen’s Day.

As Leicester say, they have electricity. It is the currency Klopp is desperate to generate in Liverpool 4.

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