Well, at least Chelsea lost. Again. That’s about the only good take-away from the weekend, and even that is starting to feel like low-hanging fruit. Even if it’s early days, Tantalus himself might scoff at such an offering. Certain clubs continue their grim, mirthless march towards invincibility (or are they slouching toward something else?) whilst others scramble and scrabble for the crumbs left behind. Hmph. I didn’t mean to strike such a sour note so early. Better than leaving it late, I suppose. Let’s get to it.
1: Man City (6W 0D 0L: 18 pts.)
Mr. Pep, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular? Fair question. Guardiola’s minions made mincemeat of Nottingham Forest despite Rodri being shown a straight red in what must have been a shocking shock to a player who has previously been shown a red carpet towards hacking and scything players down with impunity. Despite going down a man, Man City somehow found the pluck, the depth, and the belief to overcome a side that’s just happy to be in the Prem in the first place. To be fair, Guardiola’s had to contend with a number of injuries, almost as if he only has one world-class player at this or that position. I’m sure we all sympathise with his selection dilemmas.
2: Liverpool (5W 1D 0L: 16 pts.)
Uh-oh. It looks like Liverpool have rediscovered what it takes to keep pace with Man City. Those filthy mugsmashers showed how explosive they can be, smashing three past a previously impressive West Ham side on their way to 18 matches unbeaten. The last thing we need is for another side to be chasing Man City—or is it? If Liverpool can nick points off of Man City, so much the better for us. On the other hand, Liverpool are not quite back to their best, as evinced by Bowen’s goal to briefly equalise and by Alissheon being tested more often than he’d like. West Ham might have some mettle, but we’d expect more from Liverpool—and it looks like that’s precisely what they’ll be offering.
3: Brighton (5W 0D 1L: 15pts.)
De Zerbi never got the memo. You don’t simply sell all of your best players but get better. While we’ll have to wait and see whether playing in the Europa League will sap their domestic strength, the early signs…well, they’re not encouraging. Despite losing at home to AEK Athens, the Flock of Seagulls ran all night and day and came away with a come-from-behind win over AFC Bournemouth. While that might not be impressive in and of itself, De Zerbi’s side did show admirable resolve and determination when it might have been easy to down tools and blame that Europa League commitment. If I’m being honest, I’m getting some 2016 Leicester-ish (Leicester-ly?) vibes from this squad, not that they’ll win the Prem or anything. Still, they may be full of just enough beans or vineger or whatever to finish in the top four.
4: Tottenham (4W 2D 0L: 14 pts.)
Say it with me: sigh. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be a thing of beauty, not this abomination! Spurs came in to the Emirates, weathered a storm of sorts that lasted roughly half an hour, and came away with a glorious point. No, it wasn’t the victory they needed or craved, but it was just enough to vindicate and inspire. After preying on, well, lesser prey (Man U, this does include you…), Costeglou’s nous were put to the test…and I’m loath to say that he passed. It’s too early to say what this all means in the long run, but it almost surely suggests that Spurs might just be serious for once. Without Kane, they are capable of more-fluid, incisive play, and Son, Kulusevski, and Maddison look ready to exploit this new dynamic.
5: Arsenal (4W 2D 0L: 14 pts.)
Hmph. So. Here we find ourselves on level terms with Tottenham but trailing on goal difference. If there’s any consolation to be found in the short term, it’s in the fact that Tottenham are flying high while we’re still stuttering along. That dynamic was on full display during this most-recent North London Derby. After the first half hour, Tottenham had the upper hand, playing with more enthusiasm and incisiveness, and they might even feel like they dropped two rather than claimed one. For ourselves, we’re still playing like a novice driver learning to drive a manual transmission. There are sudden surges forward, yes, but there are still too many stalls. Injuries to Partey, Timber, and Martinelli matter, but this summer’s business should have inured us to that. There’s still time to fight for the title, but the margins are narrowing…
From here, there’s a squabbling mass that includes Aston Villa, West Ham, Newcastle, and (maybe) Man U. There’s still a lot of sifting and sorting to be done, but it does feel at the moment as if the current top five will fight and scratch and claw while these others wait and hope and pray. All of that can change, of course. For example, it’s still mathematically possible for Chelsea to not just escape relegation again but to finish in the top half of the table. Crazy, I know. We’ll have to keep an eye on them and others while trying to reel Man City in.
Early days. There’s still time. That’s the mantra.