Nothing particularly surprising took place in the Premier League over the weekend. If anything, this weekend’s results followed precisely the sort of script that could’ve been written in August. A José Mourinho team did as Mourinho teams tend to do, while Arsenal beat up on another awful team and are now level on points with plucky upstarts Southampton. The Gunners will finish fourth, as always, as Southampton will get back below that glass ceiling where it belongs.
Just as predictably, the bottom five teams in the league lost each of their games quite handily. There is a simple explanation for this: Aston Villa, Burnley, Hull City, Queen’s Park Rangers, and Leicester City are all very, very bad at soccer. Historically bad, even. Below 15th place, the league is one big garbage fire that is so god-awful to watch that all five of them might as well be relegated now, just on general principle.
The current leader of this pack of utter shit is Aston Villa. If 2014-15 Aston Villa was a horse, it would be taken out behind the barn and shot. Is there a more soul-destroying fate in sports right now, than that of the Villa fan? I doubt it. Imagine paying good money to travel to the Emirates on Sunday just to see your side pathetically lay down at the feet of Arsenal. Modern Arsenal sides are notorious flat-track bullies, but I’m sure even the Gooners were pleasantly surprised at how hapless Villa was.
What makes the situation at Villa Park especially depressing is how far into irrelevance the club has fallen. The likes of Leicester City and Burnley may have been no-hopers from the start, but Aston Villa is a big club with a storied history and large fanbase. Years of chronic under-investment from an owner who obviously couldn’t be bothered anymore and a manager who is failing to get the best out of his team is a reliable combination for hopeless soccer.
The only thing worse than being incompetent is being incompetent and boring, and when it comes to sheer dullness, Aston Villa are head and shoulders above (below?) any other team in the league. This team — a whole team — has only managed to score 11 goals all season. Eleven goals. In five months. Jesus Christ. Watching Villa games has becomer an exercise in self-flagellation.
Below the Villains, Burnley will be hoping that teams currently in the relegation zone manage to out-shit it between now and season’s end. That is their only hope for survival, because Burnley is honestly too poor a team to keep itself in the league on its own merit. Soccer is a simple game: score some goals, and try to make sure your opponent scores fewer goals. Burnley is good at neither. Its best player, Danny Ings, doesn’t even have to play well to put himself in the shop window, because he’s already off to either Liverpool or Real Sociedad.
Hull City made a slew of attacking signings in the summer in the hopes of providing some excitement for its fans, but with the second fewest goals of any team so far, it’s safe to say that hasn’t gone according to plan. Around March of each season, there are always a handful of middling clubs that find themselves safe from relegation, but without any realistic hope of qualifying for European competition. For these clubs, it becomes clear that the players don’t give a shit whether they finish 11th or 16th, and you can tell that they’ve already started thinking about their summer holidays. Hull’s players have been playing like that since August.
Big-spending fraud circus QPR, meanwhile, has one win in its last eight league matches and has conceded a league-high 42 goals. In a shocking turn of events, it seems letting Harry Redknapp sign all his washed-up mates is not a sound player recruitment strategy.
Like Burnley, Leicester City have been outmatched in this league from day one and quite simply lack the quality required at this level. The team has had its moments — most notably, a 5-3 comeback win over bizarro Manchester United — but it was never going to last. The fact that it is only a win away from climbing out of the bottom three is a damning indictment on the teams around it. In any other year, Leicester would be dead and buried by now.
The dire form of the league’s bottom five is indicative of the drop in quality of the league as a whole. Chelsea is the only really decent team, and even it is starting to fade as Mourinho runs his starters in the ground. Manchester City is within reach of first, but inspite of itself. Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham are all in various states of transition, and no one should really be taking Arsenal seriously.
That the Premier League is not as strong as it has been in recent years is not exactly cause for panic, but it is undeniable. The decline in quality is reflected most keenly towards the bottom of the barrel. In most other seasons, teams like this year’s Aston Villa, QPR, or Hull City would be sure bets to make the drop. This year, unfortunately for people who hate sadness and despair, that is no longer the case. Most years, we talk about teams that are “too good to go down.” This year, we are stuck with at least five teams that should be too bad to stay up.