It is the Premier League’s promotional position that any team can win on any given day. The key differentiator, or USP, is what allows the company to offer itself to the world with such success.
In actuality, a title race is required for that claim to be genuinely legitimate. Not a two-horse race, but an open contest with a real chance of victory for two, three, or even four teams.
There is genuine hope that this time around, heading into the final international window of the year, there might be the most competitive race at the top in many seasons.
Only three times previously in the Premier League, since the top flight was re-formatted in 1992, has it been this close after 12 games—almost a third of the campaign. Following Manchester City’s incredible 4-4 draw away at Chelsea, just three points separate the top five.
In 2001–02, it was even tighter, with just three points covering the top six, although then-leaders Liverpool had only played 11 times. In 2007–08, three points covered five teams, the same as in 2020–21.
And yet in only one of those campaigns, 2007–08, did the title race eventually involve more than two teams, with Manchester United, who won it, finishing just two points ahead of Chelsea and only four points in front of Arsenal.
What is also interesting − and suggests it might be closer still this time round − is that this season the top five so far have amassed more points than in any of those previous campaigns: 133. The next highest was in 2007-08, with 127, when three teams went down to the wire.
Is it because the top five are better? Probably not. The main factor may indeed be that the promoted teams are even weaker, with the bottom three having collected just 15 points between them while there is a larger than usual rump of middle-ranking sides who will neither qualify for Europe nor be relegated.
Of course, all of this must to be examined through the prism that most observers expect City to eventually win the league. That would make them the first to win four in a row in the entire 136-year history of English top-flight football.
If they do so, it questions that competitive argument and begins to turn the Premier League into what we have seen around Europe − where Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga 11 seasons in a row, albeit by the skin of their teeth last time, and where Paris St-Germain have been French champions in nine of the last 11 campaigns.
In fact, there would be an argument the competitive balance is not only better in Italy − where four different teams have been champions in the last four years − but even Spain, where it has been shared between Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Competitive does not always mean better, though. City are the strongest team in Europe, they won the Champions League and are favourites to do so again and there has to be sympathy for Arsenal last season and Liverpool before that to try and finish ahead of this high-class juggernaut.
But competitive has to be good, and while City are top, they are conceding more goals than usual at this stage of a campaign − the most since 2020 when they also let in 12 (and went on to win the league) − and so are not without flaws.
Remarkably, City were seventh at this stage of the season back then, even if they were just three points off the top, while they are in first place right now without quite hitting their stride on a consistent basis. It is the ultimate testimony to the runs they can then go on that they finished 12 points ahead of second-placed Manchester United to regain the title in 2021.
So what will happen from here? There are grounds for hope that City will face a wider and more sustained challenge, while an unknown factor for them is handling the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia next month − a competition they want to win − with a squad that maybe lacks depth.
That is because Arsenal, who pushed them close last season even if their head-to-heads were a non-contest, are undoubtedly better, especially with the signing of Declan Rice. Jürgen Klopp has impressively re-grouped Liverpool with a new midfield. Injuries have suddenly hit Tottenham hard which probably means the best they can hope is a top-four finish, while no one can rule out Aston Villa pushing all the way under Unai Emery, especially with their formidable home record.
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