Premier League | Why are teams finding it so hard to retain the title?
Second season struggles Chelsea won the league comfortably last year in Antonio Conte’s debut season. After a shaky start, the London club found consistency to storm to the title, but have struggled this season. There is intense speculation over Conte’s future (following a very public war of words with the Chelsea board) and those at Stamford Bridge have long since given up hope of retaining the title. Chelsea are currently fifth in the table, 22 points off the leaders ahead of their game against West Brom on Monday night. It is a familiar story for reigning Premier League champions in recent seasons. No team has successfully defended the title since Manchester United – when they completed three-in-a-row - under Alex Ferguson in 2009, which illustrates how competitive the league is. Chelsea broke United’s monopoly a year later, before United won one either side of Sergio Aguero’s dramatic title-winning strike in 2012. City then wrenched the title back from their neighbours in 2013, before Jose Mourinho guided Chelsea to the title the following season. Next came Leicester’s phenomenal season, which saw Claudio Ranieri guide the Foxes to glory, before Conte sealed the title on his first attempt last season.
Managerial merry-go-round Managers are also experiencing huge difficulties as a result of this competitiveness in the league. No boss has been able to retain the title since Sir Alex Ferguson, and many have paid the price as a result. Carlo Ancelotti won the domestic double in his first season at Chelsea (2009/10) but was sacked just hours after the final day of the following season, as Chelsea failed to retain their title. Roberto Mancini was at the helm when Man City sealed their first title in 44 years with the last kick of the 2011-12 season, but City failed to replicate their form in the next campaign. They finished 11 points behind their Manchester neighbours, and Mancini was dismissed just two days after the season ended. Ferguson opted to retire after his title triumph, and his replacement David Moyes oversaw a pitiful title defence the following season, as Manuel Pellegrini then brought the title back to the Etihad, pipping Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool to the title in the 2013/14 season. The Chilean became the first non-European manager to win the Premier League, but could not repeat the feat. Jose Mourinho sealed the first title of his second stint at Stamford Bridge, but even 'The Special One' could not establish another dynasty at Chelsea. Chelsea capitulated after winning the title, which allowed Leicester to achieve the most unlikely of successes in a fairytale season. It may have been a fairytale for Ranieri, but it was a nightmare for Mourinho. He was dismissed by Roman Abramovich mid-way through the season, and Ranieri himself suffered a similar fate 12 months later. Leicester's inability to defend their title was far less surprising, but it was a shock that the Foxes were willing to part ways with the manager who had made the impossible a reality. Step forward Antonio Conte. His unhappiness with Chelsea's summer transfer business is well documented, and the fiery Italian appears to be locked in some sort of stand-off with those in charge at Stamford Bridge. The Premier League champions have suffered heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Watford in quick succession, and the heat will be on Conte if Monday's clash against West Brom goes awry. A defeat could put his immediate future in jeopardy, and the general consensus is that the former Juventus manager will part ways with Chelsea in the summer regardless. His difficulties this season are just another example of the managerial merry-go-round in England, which even title-winning managers are victims of.
Will City break the mold? Can Manchester City break this incredible trend? The club are certainly unlikely to part company with Pep Guardiola in the foreseeable future, and City have the players, manager, and resources to dominate the league for the next few years. The Premier League has no shortage of money or top managers, but City will stroll to this season's title regardless. They are unlikely to lose their big players in the summer - Kevin De Bruyne has just signed a new long term deal - and Pep has the perfect blend of experience and youth in his team. Kevin De Bruyne is only 26, Raheem Sterling is 23, Leroy Sané is 22, and Gabriel Jésus is 20. Their senior players, such as Sergio Aguero and David Silva, are playing the football of their careers, and the club's strength in depth is frightening. While the managers of recent champions may feel they lacked backing in the market after winning the league, a lack of spending money is not likely to be an issue at the Etihad. That said, it will be extremely difficult to retain the title. Jose Mourinho is likely to spend big again in the summer, and could mount a serious title tilt next season, and pressure will be on the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp to deliver silverware at their respective clubs. Perhaps the title will continue to trade hands regularly in the coming seasons, but Manchester City have all the tools to establish dominance in English football.