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Tight at the Top? You Don’t Say

It has been continuously remarked upon just how tightly packed the head of the Premier Table is at present, and sure, it is. Just two points separate first and fourth place and it’s been an exciting season thus far.

But I don’t feel as though the race for the title will involve four or five teams through-out. There has been constant talk of this being the “closest title race for years” by pundits and journalists, simply based on the fact that after 11 games, The four teams at the top have amassed a similar amount of points from their respective games.

This is just silly, and a rather lazy and un-insightful thing to say.

Come the end of March/start of April, I can say with relative assurance there will be just the two teams battling it out, maybe just even one that has already started to pull away from the pack.

At this stage, who could they be? Liverpool and City? Liverpool and Arsenal? Arsenal and City? Who knows, and that’s something about football that is both wonderful and enraging. The fact that no one can predict the future means we can speculate all we like about the league and what may lie ahead. We can talk and write and debate and all give our own thoughts on what could transpire.

But it also means people can get away with uninspiring and frankly dull comments, “this could be the closest title race for years”, being a glaring example.

If you take a quick glance at the Premier League table from each of the last five or six seasons after ten or eleven games had been played, it is invariably the case that the teams at the top aren’t too far apart from each other.

Barring the 14/15 season, in which by mid-November Chelsea had a significant lead at the summit, you can look at the table down the years and see that nothing much has changed in terms of patterns of points accumulation from the top-four teams.

Just last season, after eleven games, you could throw a blanket over the top six teams, with just five points being the difference between them.

The exact same is true of the 13/14 season. Eleven games, top six sides separated by just five points.

In the 12/13 campaign, the top three sides had just three points between them after the same period.

In each of these seasons, were all those teams still battling for the title a couple of months later?

So yes, it is close right now. But let’s not get carried away, and let’s not fill our heads with the useless guff that pundits tend to throw out, in some cases just to fill the time. The beauty of football is that we all can have an opinion, and not only that but we can also express it.

Just to offer my own opinion on the top end of the table; I can’t see Liverpool maintaining a title challenge through out a season with a defence as unsure and un-proven as it is. Just like they showed in the 13/14 season, you can’t win a league by just attempting to out-score every side you come up against.

There was an argument circulating over the weekend about whether Liverpool’s performance surpassed that of Chelsea’s against Everton on Saturday evening. Another strange time-filler. It’s a no-brainer. Chelsea scored five against a Ronald Koeman side and looked utterly un-playable.

Liverpool scored six against Watford, who admittedly hadn’t conceded in their last few games, but the telling factor was that Liverpool still managed to give up the clean sheet.

Klopp wants his side to play with emotion. He’s an emotional person himself which is why he seems such a good fit for Liverpool, as they themselves are an emotional club, but that’s what could hinder Liverpool’s chances of winning the title. The problem with playing emotion is that when the time comes to play with cold heads, whether it’ seeing out a scrappy 1-0 win, or chasing an equaliser with just minutes left to play, you will very often fall short.

Chelsea, after Conte introduced his three-at-the-back system five weeks back away at Hull, have shown they can go the distance. They are scoring beautiful goals, but defending well also. No goals conceded in five league games says it all. In four of their last five, Liverpool couldn’t keep a clean sheet.

And we all know the typical trajectory Arsenal follow. Iffy start, improve, maybe in the top two by Christmas, new year rolls around and it all falls away, then they muster themselves for a strong finish when the title is out of reach and manage another top four finish. Yes they haven’t lost since the opening day, but Arsenal have the players and the quality who can go on a run. The trouble is they can never maintain it.

The 0-0 against Middlesbrough in October was a massive indication of just how easily they can crumble. Had they won it, they could be top right now.

Guardiola is still getting the hang of the Premier League. Middlesbrough’s unexpected late equaliser last weekend should have hammered home what many pundits and people in the media warned the Spaniard of when he took the job.

This league is not easy.

So it’s tight at the top for sure, but any fool can see that. What you must do is understand and realise this is not a headline in itself.

All too often, people will say the most obvious thing and get away with it.

Written by David Newman

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