THERE is a trend developing in the Premier League that threatens its status as the most exciting league in the world.
Everyone, with the obvious exception of Manchester City, are now trying to avoid defeat.
I know that sounds obvious, but teams, including those at the top, are firstly playing not to lose and then maybe snatch a win.
Outside of the top six the league has concertinaed in terms of quality.
The increasing amounts of money that have come into the game have upped the standard for clubs who might traditionally struggle at the top level.
That means they can all compete. Perhaps not to win, but certainly not to lose.
Witness what Brighton did to Manchester United on Saturday.
They were superb in the way they stopped an attacking line-up that included Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and later Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In the end, it needed a very fortuitous deflected shot to split the sides.
But it was not backs-against-the-wall defending and hacking the ball clear.
The defenders as individuals are not better but it was proper defending, organised and well drilled.
Teams are fitter and more compact. There are only five clubs with a better defensive record than Chris Hughton’s side who were immediate favourites for the drop when they came up last season.
Then take West Brom’s performance at Spurs.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have rightly been praised for all their attacking flair yet they could not beat a side on a dreadful run.
Caretaker boss Gary Megson had a plan and it worked — it was basically attack against defence and the defence won out.
Have a look at the middle of the table and we see Burnley, Watford, Brighton and Huddersfield — and look at how close they pushed City yesterday.
They are no mugs, there are no mugs.
These clubs are not punching above their weight. The landscape has changed, the quality has improved.
The games between the top sides are always built up to be classics but are often a letdown because of very defensive approaches, too.
This is not a criticism by the way, this is just how it is.
Much was made of Jose Mourinho’s approach to the goalless draw at Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp, however, was not taking any risks, either.
His substitutions were like for like, he was not taking a defensive midfielder out for an attacker.
Why? Because he knew Mourinho would take advantage, he didn’t want to lose.
Neither of them did and that was more important.
Yet listen to Klopp afterwards and you would think they had gone on an all-out attacking mission, they hadn’t. Neither of them had.
Chelsea have played out a goalless draw with Arsenal already this season and yesterday they went to Anfield with not conceding as the very first thing on their mind.
It was a defensive approach from Antonio Conte, too, when Manchester City visited Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are champions but played against City like a point was the height of their ambitions.
Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Spurs was lacking highlights, but it was a hard-fought affair.
Neither side wanted to give ground, neither side wanted to lose, Mourinho’s side edged the win.
There are some extremely tactically astute coaches throughout the Premier League, but the trend is to stop first and have a go later.
It is probably why City are standing out. Their philosophy is the opposite.
Now that is OK when you have the array of attacking talent they have coupled with a new goalkeeper who can actually use his hands and a defence that seems to know what they are doing now.
Not everyone has what they do at their disposal.
But believe me, they will not be taking apart Manchester United in the derby on December 10.
Mourinho will have a plan to stop them and try to nick something and there is every chance he will.
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He just knows how to set up a team to defend well and right now they are the best in the Premier League in that department.
But look at the goals for column and only City are ahead of them.
It is not that attacking is a dying art it is just tactically teams defend better, unless you are Newcastle on Saturday, of course.
It’s part of the game and should not be decried.
But it is something we will need to get used to more and more.