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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Top flight is still a thriller

By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Liverpool's game with Manchester United has been held up as 'Exhibit A' in the current rush to put the Premiership on trial for being boring.

Chelsea are not dull and it is time people stopped being cynical and critical

It was the most high-profile game of the weekend - and the worst.

But I am not having it that the Premiership has become dull, although I will accept that there seems to be something of a backlash against football at the moment.

People are looking at a decline in attendances, a perceived lack of goals and excitement and also at the England cricket factor - putting all the pieces together and announcing the death of the Premiership as a source of excitement.

This is nonsense, although again it is fair to say the Ashes has knocked football off its usual spot on the back pages.

An added factor in the criticism is that the football season, in my opinion, started too early and we had a late, and incredibly dramatic, finish to the cricket season.

But let's coldly examine this weekend's games, Anfield apart, and take on those who claim that the game has gone dull.

Sunderland against West Brom was as open as it gets, Manchester City could have scored 10 against Bolton and there could have been a host of goals in the game between Aston Villa and Spurs.

And while Chelsea's win at Charlton was not a classic, it was highly-entertaining and there was some real quality on show from the champions.

There was more than enough entertainment and I completely disagree with those who say football is losing excitement.

The other factor in the equation is the increasing focus on formations - and the use of 4-5-1.

Taking the Anfield game in isolation, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has played that way at Liverpool and been very successful in recent years.

He is no fool and he is hardly going to change it just to get a few extra marks for artistic impression.

Liverpool are searching for a foundation and they now seem to have that in defence, with four clean sheets in the Premiership this season.

The trick for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is to strike the balance - but they are certainly better than last term.

But I laugh when I hear 4-5-1 being discussed as some sort of new-fangled, experimental theory - it has been used for years.

If you want to subdue teams, two well-organised banks of four or five are very difficult to break down. And why should teams make life easy for the opposition?

Another aspect of the "Premiership is boring" argument is the fact that champions Chelsea have gone off at pace, leaving the rest behind.

Man of the series Flintoff hit 402 runs and taking 24 wickets
Football has suffered from starting too early and a late - and very dramatic - end to the cricket season

Some are already writing off the title as a one-horse race - rather like they did when Arsenal were red-hot at the start of last season.

People can be cynical or critical about Chelsea but what about giving them the credit they deserve?

No team has ever won the title by not having great players or not playing good football - and this applies to Chelsea.

No-one was complaining like this when Arsenal were running away with the league because they were playing such a terrific brand of attacking soccer, the like of which many of us had never seen before.

Chelsea, because they are more clinical and have big money behind them, are being labelled boring.

What a load of rubbish.

It is all well and good having money, but the manager has to mould the players and the players have to have hunger and desire.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has proved he is right up there with the best and, even though the opposition treat every game against Chelsea like a cup final, his players play as if their lives depend on it, as if every game is their last.

Mourinho has the same attitude as Ferguson and my old Liverpool manager Bob Paisley.

He will not give a monkey's about how he wins the title. He will not care what people say.

I recall winning a few championships at Liverpool and I don't remember any bad ones.

So as people queue up to criticise, let me be the first to say that reports of the death of excitement in the Premiership are premature.





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