27 October 2009

Premier League 2010-11: Survival of the Fittest?

It's been a pretty grim week to be an Everton supporter, what with losing 5-0 to Benfica last Thursday in a match we didn't need to win, succumbing 3-2 to Bolton in one we surely did, and then being knocked out of the Carling Cup by Spurs this evening, going down 2-0.

The reaction over on Toffeeweb is understandably grim, but strangely, most of anti-Moyes crowd are being unusually quiet at the minute. Relatively so, anyway. I'm not sure if it's because they think this is just because the results speak for themselves, or because they reckon this is all down to injuries.

Is that a cop out? I don't think so. If you go over to this remarkable site, you'll see that at the moment Everton is clearly the most battered side in the Premier League, with ten people out injured, eight of the ten being regular starters, and two being regular subs. To put that into context, all bar three sides currently have five or fewer men injured; indeed, Everton has more men out than Villa, Hull, Stoke, Sunderland, and Wigan combined. Add this to the fact that we have one of the Premier League's smallest squads, and fielding a team is proving increasingly tricky; Moyes seems to have little option but to play regulars out of position along with youngsters and lads that aren't fully match-fit. The subs benches have tended to be almost for show, given the inexperience of the players sitting on them; tactical substitution seems scarcely to be an option. It's not really surprising that we've been getting tonked.

The thing is, though, I can't help but wonder how next season's going to pan out. After all, the plan is that next season no Premier League side should have more than 25 players in its squad. Obviously, this is intended to stop absurdities like last year when Liverpool had 62 players on the books, while the average club had 41.

I think it's safe to say that if you reduced Everton's squad to 25 players, that 25 would include the injured 10. That'd leave us with 15 functioning players, those presumably being the eleven starters from tonight and four of the six subs.

The point being: next season could be very interesting, given that every side will have a squad smaller than Everton's current one. I'm not even sure it'll be possible for teams to compete meaningfully in four competitions, and I suspect utility players rather than positional specialists may become the norm. There's a serious chance that the League could well wind up being a simple campaign of attrition, with health rather than wealth being the deciding factor in who wins, in which case it may not be Manchester City's money that breaks the top four cartel -- it may all come down to who has the fewest injuries.

In terms of turning the Premier League into an actual competition, this can only be good, but I suspect it's not going to be pretty. Evolution is anything but elegant, after all.

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