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EYE ON EPL

When the big boys fall, the consistent stand tall

This English Premier League season has shown that the old guard of players are still missed by the big clubs.

In recent years, influential players including Frank Lampard (Chelsea) and Ryan Giggs (Manchester United) have either left or retired. Veterans such as Wayne Rooney, Yaya Toure and John Terry had either lost form or are in the twilight of their careers.

So when the teams are struggling to replace those who have left, it opens the door for other less-fancied teams to challenge for the title.

This is what we have seen this season.

Leicester City was the biggest surprise package, and became a story you would tell to your grandchildren.

This season has given football a refreshing lift. The waning powers of a generation of EPL stars at the big clubs as well as Spurs' sudden collapse gave Leicester, a consistent and stable team, to take full advantage.

But we should not forget Southampton as well. Just five years ago, the Saints were playing in the third-tier League One. Now, they are fifth, and would finish in sixth spot if the Red Devils win or draw against Bournemouth.

Who would have predicted before the season that Southampton and Leicester would finish so high in the table?

In a way, they have the top teams to thank for their achievements.

At Old Trafford, new signings Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger were expected to strengthen the first XI but the duo chipped in with just three goals and that is fewer than youngster Marcus Rashford's tally of four.

And with just 46 goals scored this season, the Red Devils look set to finish with the fewest number of goals scored in a season since 1990, when they had 46 goals and finished a lowly 13th spot.

Manchester City were too foolish to announce, with more than three months left to the end of the season, that manager Manuel Pellegrini will be replaced by Pep Guardiola for the next season.

This was the biggest mistake they had made and the poor timing of the announcement unsettled the team and probably explains their average performances when they won just one and lost nine of the 14 games played against the top eight teams in the league.

For most of the season, Tottenham Hotspur looked like worthy title contenders until the final three matches.

They conceded the title to Leicester in a bad-tempered 2-2 draw against Chelsea which showed their inability to keep calm.

After that, they appeared toothless as they lost 1-2 at home to Southampton before suffering a shocking 5-1 thrashing at relegated Newcastle United.

Whether is it that the players could not be bothered to fight any more or they were thinking about their future in the club, I feel that it is an unprofessional way to end the season.

It was a further disappointment for them that they allowed bitter rivals Arsenal to overtake them to finish second, letting slip the chance to finish ahead of their north London rivals for the first time since 1995.

But this season has given football a refreshing lift. The waning powers of a generation of EPL stars at the big clubs as well as Spurs' sudden collapse gave Leicester, a consistent and stable team, to take full advantage.

If the Foxes can keep their key players together, I don't see why they cannot remain as serious challengers next season.

And I hope that we will not have to wait for decades and decades for such excitement to happen again.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'When the big boys fall, the consistent stand tall'. Print Edition | Subscribe