Since the birth of a rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool a little more than a decade ago, there has rarely been an insignificant fixture between the two teams.
Liverpool’s trio of semi final wins in the Champions League and FA Cup twice denied Jose Mourinho an opportunity to contest a European Cup final with Chelsea, and also a chance to win the club’s first league and cup double.
Chelsea’s successes in the fixture include the aggregate victories secured over Liverpool in the Champions League in 2008 and 2009, the former of which denied a Liverpool v Man United final. In 2010, Carlo Ancelotti’s league and cup double winning side all but secured the title with a win at Anfield, and a famous Chelsea win on the same ground in May 2014, saw Mourinho’s team issue a blow that handed the initiative back to Manchester City in a title race that Liverpool led with only a week of the season to play.
That Liverpool finished ahead of Chelsea for only the second time in 12 seasons was of no consolation, and order was restored last season with Chelsea comfortably claiming a fourth Premier League title as Liverpool slumped to a sixth place finish.
Neither side have impressed this year, but it’s the form of Chelsea that has dominated the headlines so far, having endured the worst start to a season of any team defending a league title in the Premier League era.
An early exit in the League Cup this week won’t do anything to ease the pressure on both the team and its manager, but a home match against Liverpool could be a perfect fixture in which to earn a morale-boosting win.
Liverpool started the season well, but currently sit in mid-table, with performances having deserved nothing more. A record of just two defeats in 15 competitive games that have included trips to Arsenal, Everton, Spurs and Man United would ordinarily represent a good return, but a flurry of tame draws against supposedly weaker opponents has been the main theme of Liverpool’s season so far.
With so many points dropped by teams who would be expected to be in contention for the top four, it could be considered a missed opportunity that Liverpool haven’t capitalized and taken the chance to put even more pressure on the likes of a struggling Chelsea.
That’s why the meeting between the two is such a big game already, for as poor as Chelsea have been, they’ll move above Liverpool in the league with a win on Saturday. And most neutral fans would still consider the Stamford Bridge side to be stronger than Liverpool as the season progresses.
A win for Liverpool meanwhile would open up a gap of six points between the teams, and pile even more misery on a club that is experiencing more than most in the Premier League.
With a successful defence of the title looking less and less likely, the target for now is fourth place, and although Jose Mourinho is making no guarantees of securing a Champions League place for next season, there’s no reason to believe that it’s not still a realistic possibility with so much of the season remaining.
But a defeat to Liverpool – a side with similar ambitions – would be a huge setback, and that’s why tomorrow’s lunchtime fixture is one of the biggest games so far this season.
One thing that cannot be levelled at La Liga this season is a lack of drama, an often cited reason from fans with a strong preference for the English Premier League.
Just as in England, the table is topped by one of the title favourites, but there are also some unlikely clubs in the mix, namely Celta Vigo and Villarreal.
Neither side can hardly be described as minnows, but their presence amongst the top four is one of the stories of the season so far – not least on the back of Celta’s 4-1 demolition of Barcelona that affords them more credit.
In winning at Villareal on Sunday, Celta went level on points with Real Madrid and Barcelona, and in the process denied their hosts the opportunity to themselves top the table.
A day earlier, Barca’s class had eventually seen off the bold approach adopted by Rayo Vallecano, who continue to persist with an all-out-attacking strategy, no matter where or who they are playing.
A 6-1 loss in last year’s corresponding fixture was no reflection of how well Rayo performed in the attacking third of the pitch, and a 5-2 loss at the Camp Nou this season followed another competent display at one end of the pitch whilst perfectly demonstrating the art of kamikaze defending and giving away goalscoring chances too easily at the other.
The drama continued on Sunday night in Galicia, where La Coruna came from two goals down to earn a point in a fiercely contested match against Athletic Bilbao, played out in the terrific atmosphere of a packed Riazor stadium.
Athletic continue to look much better than their league position suggests, but have struggled to collect victories since their explosive start to the Spanish season when they hammered Barcelona in the Super Cup.
But the pick of the round was saved for last night’s match at El Molinon, with Sporting Gijon entertaining bottom-of-the-table Granada.
Sporting began strongly and, after an early goal, looked in the mood to add to the scoreline and put in a dominant showing. But a scrappy equaliser helped Granada settle into the match and from then on it was end-to-end for the duration.
Two goals from distance put the visitors in total control, before a sending off and a consolation strike with minutes to spare gave Gijon late hope of salvaging something.
Surviving the five minutes of allotted time with ten men was likely to be enough of a challenge for Granada, though the task became even more difficult when a second yellow card was awarded to Doria for time-wasting at a free kick, not only of reducing Granada’s numbers to eight outfield players but also in extending the amount of time to be added on.
And as the clock edged towards the end of a sixth minute of added time, a stunning strike by Gijon’s Miguel Angel Guerrero made it 3-3.
It was a fitting finale to a weekend that had already contained so much drama already, and the best advert to anyone doubting the appeal and excitement of arguably Europe’s strongest league.
The appointment of a new manager typically leads to an immediate impact, and Jurgen Klopp’s opening match in charge of Liverpool was no exception to that trend.
Despite a promising start to the season, the Reds have looked distinctly average in most games since a impressive performance at Arsenal had led to genuine hope that the current season would see a big improvement on last year’s campaign, and ease the pressure on Brendan Rodgers.
Doubts were cast over the future of Rodgers during the summer, but amongst the split in opinion, I was always of the belief that he’d done enough overall to earn a chance to oversee a turnaround in performances.
Sadly, there have been no signs that the desired improvement was ever likely to fully materialise, and although a tough run of away games was dealt to Liverpool when the fixtures were announced, it’s been the team’s home form that has caused most concern, with five of the opening nine league points dropped at Anfield, and below-average showings in the two cup matches.
With frustration increasing among a growing number of supporters, it was therefore the right time for the board to make a change, and the arrival of a high-profile manager with a good degree of experience, and hungry to build on previous successes will reveal a lot about the squad that has been inherited. Too many players have performed poorly on too many occasions, with some guilty of lacking the commitment expected of them even in the biggest of games.
Klopp has already set about introducing a high intensity pressing game, with players expected to cover much more ground that they’ve become used to – not only in recent weeks, but during the concluding weeks of last season, too.
A draw away to Spurs is a solid start, even if the home side were marginally the better team. But the improved attitude is the biggest positive to take from the weekend.
More of the same will be expected of any player wishing to remain at the club, and if distances covered in a match are to be one measure of the effort put in, there’ll be nowhere to hide over the coming weeks for any of Anfield’s underperformers.
As work continues over the summer to rebuild the Anfield Road end of Liverpool’s famous stadium, it’s the rebuilding of the squad that fans will be more eager to keep an eye on.
In May 2014, things at Anfield looked to be heading in a positive direction and there was plenty of optimism among supporters for what was to follow.
A title challenge that failed to result in silverware was nevertheless a sign of progress – and an indication that the team, and the club, were again challenging with the country’s best.
There was never any suggestion that a splendid 2013/14 season had instantly put Liverpool at the same level as Man City or Chelsea, but there was genuine belief that, at the very least, competing with Arsenal and Man United would be possible to maintain.
The departure of Suarez during the summer was a blow to Liverpool’s chances of success but, as key as Suarez was the the team in helping Liverpool to second place, the emphasis was always on team, and contributions from all of the attacking talent played as much a part.
Less than twelve months later, and the outlook could barely be more of a contrast.
Daniel Sturridge, the club’s top striker, has spent almost the entire season either injured, or returning from injury and struggling for fitness. Sturridge is currently out of action and won’t feature until at least early Autumn.
Also missing from next season onwards will be club captain Steven Gerrard, who has already announced his departure, having not been offered a contract extension.
And Raheem Sterling, another of the stars of last year, is refusing to commit his future to the club, and seems increasing likely to try and force through a transfer away from the club during the summer.
Sterling remains one of the most exciting young talents in the English game, but there are definitely some question marks that exist – not only over his ability to realise his potential, but on his attitude, too.
For Sterling to consider himself as worthy of playing for one of the continent’s elite teams suggests a vastly-overinflated self-opinion. Very few fans around the country would think of Sterling as anything more than a very special talent who has potential for a big future.
But despite playing regular first team football for three years, after making his debut under Kenny Dalglish during the 2011/12 season, it’s hard to recall many big matches during which he’s been the difference. Progress in Sterling’s game has unquestionably been much more gradual than the recent actions by him and his agent would suggest.
Should the 20-year-old depart, it would certainly weaken the Liverpool team, but the impact wouldn’t be as great as losing Suarez or Sturridge to the team.
Of more concern would be how wisely the transfer fee was reinvested – and that’s one of the reasons that there are even supporters doubting the position of Brendan Rodgers as manager.
More than £100million was spent last summer, though none of the players brought in have justified their price tags – something which is a recurring theme under the ownership of John Henry and FSG. There can be no accusations that the US owners have failed to support whichever manager has been in charge, as both Dalglish and Rodgers have had large sums of money available to them.
But the success rate of the players brought in has been unacceptably low for a club hoping to compete regularly for the title.
Rafa Benitez’s transfer record always divides opinion, but even though mistakes were made – as all manager’s are guilty of, to varying degrees – the success rate of the players signed for larger fees was good. The likes of Xabi Alonso, Mascherano and Torres were all top players, and offered instant improvement to the team, before establishing themselves as world class in their respective positions.
Of the players signed for £20million or more in the last four years, only Suarez is in that bracket, whilst Henderson has also developed into a reliable first team player.
But when considering that the most obvious other major successes – Coutinho and Sturridge – were signed for a combined total of £20million, it leaves a huge amount of money which has been spent on a long list players who simply haven’t proved reasonable value for money.
Having undergone a major team/squad rebuilding programme under Kenny Dalglish following the loss of key players during the disastrous tenure of George Gillett and Tom Hicks, a similar task was required from Brendan Rodgers when it became clear that too many of Dalglish’s signings weren’t of the quality needed to break back into the top four.
Rodgers can at least claim credit for overseeing a successful return to the Champions League, but there’s a feeling, only a year down the line, that Liverpool may yet again have to embark on a major squad rebuilding exercise.
Looking up at this year’s Premier League top four, Liverpool will know that there’s no evidence that any of the teams who will go into the Champions League next season are going to be any weaker next season.
And that means that more than ever, Liverpool’s transfer dealings need to be a success – or the team rebuilding work is likely to continue long after the work on the stadium is completed.
If deciding the Premier League’s player of the year is a difficult task, then singling out the top manager is an altogether more complex decision.
Wildly different expectations and a large gulf in available budgets are two of the factors that have to be taken into account. Other considerations relate to the level of pressure, the amount of injuries, and even dealing with any bad luck that has occurred; after all, how many times has a manager lost their job on the back of a series of good performances that simply lacked a bit of fortune when it came to securing the points?
The one obvious candidate each year is the manager of the champions. However, so comfortable has Chelsea’s title win been this season that Jose Mourinho’s outstanding qualities as a manager really haven’t been tested as much as they may have, had there been even one club challenging for top spot.
A strong start was enough to gain distance over the stuttering sides of Arsenal, Man City and Man United. Barring a dramatic collapse at Stamford Bridge, there was never a real threat that the sides below them were capable of performing consistently enough to overturn the deficit.
That’s no criticism of Mourinho, who has done a fine job this season with Chelsea, and it’s no fault of his that the West-Londoners haven’t been pushed by any of the teams expected to challenge.
Elsewhere in the top half, Ronald Koeman and Garry Monk have each done fantastic jobs with Southampton and Swansea respectively, and achieved more than what would have been expected – particularly having both lost important players.
And so to the clubs in the bottom half. Tony Pulis was voted as last year’s manager of the year for his efforts in steering Crystal Palace away from the relegation zone and ultimately achieving a mid-table finish. On that basis, it’s possible to argue the same case for Alan Pardew this year, with the former Newcastle boss having done a similar job.
Pardew’s success at Palace came shortly on the back of a fine run of form which took Newcastle into 5th place at the end of November, even amidst the backdrop of a fierce campaign from supporters who wanted him sacked.
Despite relegation, Sean Dyche has led Burnley well, and for most of the season ensured that the club were within touching distance of getting out of the bottom three.
For a side who were given no chance by many people after their promotion last season, it still represents a decent campaign, and should Burnley win promotion back into the Premier League next season, there’s every chance that a more experienced team would finish outside of the bottom three.
Despite the efforts of Dyche and his Burnley team, it wouldn’t be right to give the top award to a manager whose team had been relegated, and for that reason my choice would be the Leicester boss, Nigel Pearson.
In spite of an infamous press conference during the latter stages of the season when Pearson claimed that the team had received little credit, there have certainly been admirers of a team which, for the most part of the season, has done far better than people were expecting.
The reality did look grim for Leicester towards the end of March though, when the club sat bottom of the league, seven points behind Sunderland, and nine behind Hull City and Aston Villa with only nine games to play. But Leicester put together a remarkable run of 6 wins out of 7 (only failing to beat the champions, Chelsea), to move clear of danger.
Another point last weekend saw Leicester double their points tally for the season in just six weeks, and guarantee that they’ll be in the Premier League again next season.
The club’s survival in the top flight has some similarities to Wigan’s remarkable 2010-11 season when, after months of persisting with good football despite not being rewarded with the points it deserved, a dramatic change in fortune occurred at the most important time of the year, and Wigan put together a winning run that kept the club from relegation with a game to spare.
In both cases, the managers deserve enormous credit, but so too do their chairmen. In the cut-throat world of football management, many club bosses would have quickly moved to change the manager, thinking it was the only solution to a growing threat of relegation.
Even with so many examples of clubs plummeting into much deeper trouble after changing a manager at the first sign of a perceived crisis, it seems that in the modern game, persisting with a manager who has the support of the squad, though simply isn’t getting the results, is a much more difficult decision for a chairman to make.
That Leicester kept faith in Nigel Pearson and gave him the opportunity to keep the team up was good to see, and with the decision having paid off, should earn Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha a big shout for chairman of the year.
But the bulk of the credit for Leicester’s achievements rest with the players and the manager, and having missed out on the Premier League’s Manager of the Season award – which went to Mourinho earlier this week – Pearson’s contribution this season deserves to be recognised at the League Managers Association awards when they’re handed out next week.
With Barcelona securing their place in the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final on Tuesday night, Real Madrid last night had the chance to set up a fixture involving the two clubs that arguably make up the biggest rivalry in football.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s first half penalty put Carlo Ancelotti’s men en route to overturning their first leg deficit against Juventus, but it was cancelled out on the night by Alvaro Morata, whose goal was decisive in winning the tie for the Italian Champions.
Not only did it end Real Madrid’s hopes of being the first team to successfully defend the trophy in the era of the Champions League, but it denied football fans a chance to witness a mouth-watering ‘El Clasico’ in the season’s finale in Berlin next month.
It’s not the first time that the two bitter rivals have missed out on facing each other in the final. Here are five other occasions that have almost led to some of European football’s biggest rivalries in the Champions League final.
2000 Real Madrid v Barcelona
When Real Madrid completed an aggregate win over Bayern Munich in their semi final, attention turned to the second leg of Barcelona v Valencia. It was already guaranteed to be an all-Spanish fixture in Paris, but Barcelona had to overcome a 4-1 first leg hammering.
At the Camp Nou, there was little sign that there would be a successful comeback, and Gaizka Mendieta’s second half opener for Valencia virtually killed off any Barcelona dreams of a miracle.
The Catalans did manage to turn the game around on the night, but were soundly beaten over the two legs.
2007 Liverpool v Man United
Man United had demolished Roma in the quarter final, and were paired with another team from Serie A in the last four: AC Milan.
Inconsistent in the Italian league, where they were struggling to secure a place in the following season’s Champions League, and not much more convincing in Europe, Milan were considered underdogs against a Man United team on the verge of claiming the Premier League title.
A 3-2 win for Man United in the first leg was a result that flattered a Milan side heavily reliant on the brilliance of Kaka. And after Liverpool had overturned a first leg defeat to knock out Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, it looked likely that an Athens final against Man United would be on the cards.
But Milan had other ideas, and after scoring early in the game to lead on aggregate, eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
2008 Man United v Liverpool
For the third time in four years, Liverpool and Chelsea met in a semi final of the Champions League. And, as English sides continued to dominate the latter stages, Man United made up the same English trio as in the last four only a year earlier.
Completing the semi-final lineup was Barcelona, and despite the attacking talent on display from both teams, it was a single second leg goal by Paul Scholes that settled the tie and took United to Moscow.
The other tie was even closer still.
Liverpool were denied a first leg win when a 94th minute own goal by John Arne Riise gifted Chelsea a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
The goal proved costly, and after Liverpool earned a draw after a closely-fought 90 minutes in the return leg, the Reds trailed 3-1 by half time in extra time. A late Ryan Babel goal put Liverpool within a goal of winning the tie on away goals, but Chelsea held on to deny a Champions League final showdown between England’s two most successful teams.
2012 Real Madrid v Barcelona
Having met each other in the 2010/11 semi final in Jose Mourinho’s first season, Barcelona and Real Madrid were kept apart in the draw twelve months later, with both teams considered strong favourites to win their respective ties.
Single-goal first leg defeats for both teams weren’t considered to be too damaging to the prospect of Spain’s top two contesting the final, with each club playing their away fixtures first.
However, the second legs were disastrous for anyone hoping to see the famous El Clasico fixture played out in a Munich final.
Barcelona appeared certain to send Chelsea crashing out after earning a 2-0 lead – and a one-man advantage following John Terry’s dismissal. But after an inspired performance from Chelsea ‘keeper Petr Cech and a penalty miss by Lionel Messi, it was Fernando Torres who had the final say on the match – netting from a counter attack in injury time as Barcelona desperately sought the goal needed.
After Chelsea had scuppered the prospect of a Barcelona v Real Madrid final, Bayern Munich went on to ruin Jose Mourinho’s hopes of leading Real Madrid to a final against his former team, with victory in a penalty shootout in Madrid.
2013 Real Madrid v Barcelona
The two teams were at it yet again, in the pursuit of a place in the 2013 final at Wembley. Barcelona faced Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid were paired with Borussia Dortmund at the semi final stage.
After overturning a 2-0 deficit to thrash Milan in the last sixteen, and then knocking out Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter finals, there was no sign that Barcelona were heading for a crushing defeat at the hands of Bayern. A 4-0 loss in the first leg effectively ended any hopes of reaching the final though, and another potential final against Real Madrid had slipped away.
But only 24 hours later, even Barcelona’s result was overshadowed by Real Madrid’s 4-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund. Four goals from Robert Lewandowski left Jose Mourinho facing a third successive year as a semi final loser, at a club where he was appointed specifically for the task of winning the Champions League.
Madrid did put up some resistance in the return fixture, winning 2-0 – though both goals came in the final seven minutes, and Dortmund held on for a surprise overall win.
Barcelona’s chances of recovery were much slimmer, and against even more formidable opposition. They were beaten 7-0 on aggregate, the most emphatic loss suffered by any team at the last four stage in the Champions League, and instead of two Spanish giants competing Wembley, it was Germany who provided both finalists.
Amid the gloomy prospect of life in a northern English city under a Conservative government for another five years, with the inevitable “efficiency savings” to badly needed public services and other policies that only benefit big businesses the wealthiest in society, there was one thing in the election that was a little more positive.
The losses suffered by a number of high-profile candidates offered some proof that whatever position has been held previously, constituents are the people who ultimately judge how a local MP has performed, and whether or not they deserve to be re-elected to Parliament.
Where trust no longer exists, there will always be political casualties, and no more emphatically was this demonstrated than with the Liberal Democrats losing of 49 of the 57 Westminster seats they secured after the 2010 general election.
I’ve nothing personal against any of the individuals involved, but do feel that the Lib Dems have to take some responsibility for the fact that so many people have little trust in politics. To put it even more strongly, I would accuse the party of almost single-handedly damaging faith in the political system for many – especially a lot of younger voters.
During the 2010 campaign, Nick Clegg appealed for the nation to trust the Liberal Democrats, claiming that they would do politics differently.
After all, if we couldn’t trust the Tories, and were coming off the back of a turbulent period under a Labour government under increasing pressure, it was the Liberal Democrats that we should look to as the one major party that could be trusted in way that was fair to everyone.
As the Lib Dems’ popularity rocketed during the TV debates, Clegg made a claim that “a growing number of people are starting to hope, to believe a little door has opened and that maybe this time we can do things differently.”
Amongst those believing that genuine change was possible in politics were voters who were drawn to the party’s promise to scrap tuition fees if elected into government – or at the very least, to vote against any proposed rise in fees.
But within months, tens of thousands of those very people took part in angry protests ahead of a vote which would see the majority of Lib Dems spectacularly breaking their pre-election pledges, and voting to allow universities to treble the fees charged.
I’m neither a student, nor a Liberal Democrat voter, but the issue was quite clearly going to have a damaging impact on the reputation of politics as a whole. How could a party who gained popularity by insisting that they would be different to Labour or the Conservatives be trusted after voting for a policy that went against one of the main promises used to attract voters in the first place?
More damaging, how would a smaller party rise to prominence in the future on the back of a promise to be different, when the Lib Dems had insisted that they were the very politicians who would restore greater trust to the political system, and who claimed they would keep promises in a way that Labour and the Conservatives could not.
For that reason, it’s good that the electoral system still ensures that voters are the ones who ultimately determine the fate of the MP representing them, and can make their voices heard by voting for an alternative candidate when there’s any sense of betrayal.
It’s something which should act as a future warning not only to the Liberal Democrats, but to any party who would consider abandoning promises and strongly-held principles in exchange for a few seats in the government.
Given the quartet of Champions League semi-finalists, there was never any doubt that the draw would create two mouth-watering ties.
Rarely, if ever in the Champions League era, has the last four been made up of such giants of European football, all of whom could achieve a domestic championship and European cup double – with three of the sides also in contention for a treble.
Juventus may be the underdogs, having reached this stage of the competition for the first time since 2003, when they went on to finish competition runners-up to Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan. But Real Madrid know only too well of how anything can happen at this stage, and three successive semi-final losses prior to last season’s dramatic triumph may lead to a tense two legs.
The other semi final pits together two of the teams that at the start of the season I felt were under more pressure than most to perform well in this year’s Champions League: Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Since winning a fourth title in 2011, Barcelona suffered extremely disappointing eliminations from the competition in the subsequent two seasons: failing to turn a dominant second-leg performance into an aggregate victory against Chelsea in the 2012 semi final, and then losing 7-0 on aggregate to Bayern Munich twelve months later.
Last year’s defeat to Atletico Madrid was almost a confirmation that the team were no longer the same threat to the very best, and I feared that another season without posing a serious challenge for the trophy would be the final nail in marking the end of the club’s recent era of European dominance.
Had Bayern Munich achieved the full potential of their own team meanwhile, the past few years may already have been marked in Champions League history as an era belonging solely to the team from Bavaria.
A 2010 appearance in the final was seen as a surprise to many, but their march to the 2012 final, hosted in their home stadium, seemed certain to have only one outcome.
Despite a 100% home record in Europe, and having taken a 1-0 lead with only five minutes of a completely one-sided final against Chelsea remaining, the opportunity to win a fifth European Cup somehow slipped away from Bayern as they lost out on penalties.
A win against Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2013 was some consolation, but despite looking good for a chance to become the first back-to-back Champions League winners, Bayern were humiliated by Real Madrid at last season’s semi final stage.
Harsh it might be, but Bayern’s sole trophy win during a period of three or four years as arguably the continent’s best club won’t lead them to be remembered amongst the all time great teams.
With the added ingredient of Bayern Munich being managed by the man who led Barcelona to two Champions League titles in the space of three years, it might have been fitting for the two sides to have met in the final rather than a round earlier.
But with historic rivalries between all of the potential match-ups in the final, there’s to be no tame finale to the Champions League, and every one of the five remaining games has the potential to be a classic.
And so it is, and the Formula 1 rule-makers will get their wish, with the outcome to the 2014 Drivers’ Championship guaranteed to go to the final race in the calendar.
Lewis Hamilton’s win at the US Grand Prix on Sunday extended his lead to 24 points over teammate and last remaining Championship contender, Nico Rosberg.
In normal circumstances, Hamilton would need only to add another point to his lead in order to seal a second World Championship. But normal circumstances were always likely to be thrown out of the window when the farcical “double points” rule was brought in – applying only to the season’s finale, in order to try and keep the championship alive for the duration of the season.
Even without the added incentive of a 50 point windfall for taking the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg would still hold hopes of becoming 2014 World Champion.
The German set the pace for much of the season and it has taken a remarkable run of wins by his Mercedes team-mate to overturn what was, at one stage, a 29 point lead in Rosberg’s favour. At some point, Hamilton’s winning streak will come to an end, and Rosberg remains the most likely man in each and every race to capitalise on any dropped points by Hamilton.
In other words, there would be every chance that Abu Dhabi would still get to see the race which would crown one of the two men as World Champion.
As it stands though, Hamilton could go into that race with a potential 49 point lead, and ten race victories from 16 Grands Prix – yet still miss out due to a driver securing twice as many points for a race win than Hamilton had earnt for any of his triumphs.
It would be a wholly unfair way for the title to be decided, and wouldn’t do the sport of Formula 1 any favours. Even with his team certain of achieving a double Championship win, having already secured the Constructors title, Mercedes team boss, Toto Wolff, yesterday raised his own concerns that if the Drivers’ title was won purely due to the extra points, it could overshadow his team’s achievements over the course of the season – such would be the controversy.
And at a time when safety concerns and huge financial issues are affecting the sport’s reputation, Formula 1 really doesn’t need any extra negative attention that could lead to further disillusionment.
The hope is that the eventual champion can be decided without relying on the bonus points on offer – and that the sport’s governing body will see sense, and bring the distribution of points for the season’s finale in line with each of the races that come before it.
The public vote on the future of Catalonia’s place in Spain is now only a fortnight away.
Much debating concerning next month’s vote has already taken place, during bitter public battles between the central Spanish government, and the country’s most productive and profitable region.
The move has been entirely orchestrated from within Catalonia, with the leader of the ruling party, Artur Mas, repeatedly clashing over the issue with Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.
The situation has intensified since a date was set for what was initially intended to be a referendum, but which recently had to be labelled as a “consultation” instead, after concerns were made by the Spanish Constitutional Court over the legality of the vote, which was subsequently suspended.
For Spain, there appear no benefits to seeing its wealthiest region break away, and a successful Catalan campaign to leave Spain could result in other regions making similar attempts to achieve their own independence in the future – although few, if any, of the country’s other 16 autonomous regions could feasibly survive better on their own than as part of a unified Spanish nation.
In Catalonia meanwhile, the move certainly presents some risks, though it’s easier to see the advantages from their side of the argument.
Aside from the proud cultural identity that Catalans consider unique to the rest of Spain, the main reasons for wanting separation lie with the desire to have more governmental powers to manage the region, as well as a sense that Catalonia isn’t currently being given a fair deal from Madrid in terms of its public funding.
The cultural argument is weak, for every region of Spain can make a similar argument. But no other region can make such a strong financial case, and its in the country’s economics where Catalans see the real benefits to independence.
Extra power that the regional government will have over Catalan affairs and, more significantly, complete control over its finances are where the debate is being most strongly fought by pro-independence campaigners.
One big financial drawback that does exist is in the level of debt that would have to be dealt with, leaving any newly created state with a need for outside financial support.
An EU bailout wouldn’t be an option, because Catalonia’s membership in the EU would require an application to be made in order to rejoin – something which could take years. And a smooth process of obtaining EU membership status wouldn’t be guaranteed of success if there were fears that an independent Catalonia would immediately look to European funding in order to help with its debt.
At this point in time, such issues are virtually irrelevant. Many obstacles stand in the way of the prospect of Catalan independence, and a legal vote on the issue doesn’t seem to be on the cards any time soon.
Even the November 9 consultation will have little bearing on any outcome because it won’t attract the same level of turnout that a full referendum would.
Should the consultation indicate that public opinion is strongly in favour of secession from Spain, it may place a little more pressure on Madrid to negotiate Catalonia’s level of autonomous power. But it’s difficult to see any further ground being handed to Catalonia, given its financial importance to the whole of Spain, and earlier this year, the country’s Finance Minister ruled out any review of funding for the nation’s autonomous communities.
It’s an issue that may involve years of bitter fighting between central and regional governments, and no obvious solution seems to exist at present which would satisfy both parties.