There comes a time in the long grind of the Premier League when teams that are not fighting for the title, aiming to qualify for Europe or staving off relegation check out mentally and take their summer break a few weeks early.
Last weekend, we saw a listless Chelsea fall meekly to Manchester City 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. The following day, Bournemouth only sprung to life in the last 15 minutes against a largely second-string Liverpool side.
Then on Monday night, Stoke City for the second week in succession, shipped four goals in a humbling home defeat to a rampaging Tottenham Hotspur side, who still have dreams of lifting their first Premier League title.
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All three sides sit in the middle part of the ladder, which is also referred to ‘mid-table obscurity’, a term that sits uncomfortably with all fans.
Clubs such as Watford and Everton who are also located in that region of the table have the bonus of preparing for the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend. However, for the other clubs, it is a case of hoping these next four games pass in a hurry.
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For Chelsea especially, this period must be extremely humbling. So used to be fighting on all fronts, it has been a campaign that has stuttered along with no momentum whatsoever.
After the inevitable departure of Jose Mourinho, interim manager Guus Hiddink steadied the ship, guiding the club to a long unbeaten run. However, the last few weeks have shown that they are a club that is clearly looking ahead to next season and would gladly consign this one to the scrap heap.
In a season where the unexpected has become the new normal, Stoke were one of the positive stories in the first part of the season. The Britannia Stadium was the scene of some stunning footballing displays by the home side with Man City, Manchester United and Chelsea all put to the sword.
The trio of Bojan, Marko Arnautovic, and Xherdan Shaqiri were making Stoke a must watch proposition, which in itself shows how far the club had come under Mark Hughes. However the last seven games have seen only two wins, and they have not claimed a home win since the second of March. It is clear that the loss of goalkeeper Jack Butland through injury on international duty has unsettled the defence with 10 goals conceded in the three games he has missed.
The idea of staying in the Premier League seemed like a fairy-tale for Bournemouth fans, players, and management alike before the season began, while the thought of finishing mid-table would be akin to winning the title. Their performance this season has exceeded all expectations.
With a small squad, they are bound to feel the effects of a gruelling season and it is understandable they would stagger to the line. Their big challenge will be next season and whether they can build on this very promising season.
While professional pride is something that all players possess, It is up to the coaching staff of these teams to somehow keep that enthusiasm up, even though it is a thankless task with not a lot on the line.
Should Premier League teams be able to focus until the season ends? Or is it acceptable that they switch off near the end? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!
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