Is the gap at the top of the Premier League BIGGER than we think it is?

Manchester City’s David Silva (right) under pressure from Burnley’s Jack Cork

After 11 games of the 2018/19 Premier League season, we are yet again constantly hitting ourselves with the debate of who will win the league at the end of the season. Currently, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham claim the top 4 spots whilst Arsenal fall short of just 1 point.

City, unsurprisingly, sit on the throne leading with 29 points to their name with a goal difference of +29 whilst Liverpool and Chelsea fall just short of 2 points as they both have tallied 27 points each where Chelsea have a goal difference of +19 and Liverpool record +16. Despite the 2 point gap, the bit I’d like to focus on would be the goal differences of each team as it is a clear indicator on how well teams attack and defend. Manchester City may only have 2 point cushion at the top of the table but their goal difference shows that there is still a major gap in quality of the teams behind them, despite there still being two unbeaten teams chasing them. This is clearly shown in recent results where City have been slaughtering opposition in fixtures that they are expected to win, where they have scored a total of 30 goals against bottom half teams so far this season, compared to Chelsea’s 19 goals and Liverpool’s 15 goals. However, City have played 2 games against top 10 teams this season, scoring 3 goals, average 1.5 goals per game. In comparison, Chelsea have scored 8 in 4 games against the top half of the table, leaving them with an average of 2 goals per game whilst Liverpool have scored 6 in 5 games, leaving them an average of 1.2 goals per game. This statistically suggests that Jurgen Klopp is not instructing his side to play as aggressive with free flowing football as much as he has been accredited for in previous seasons whilst managing Liverpool. Despite this, Liverpool’s defensive record this season compared to last has drastically improved with the big signings of Virgil Van Dijk and Allison Becker. It clearly shows Klopp is very wary of their defensive weaknesses where recent spending suggests that resolving their defensive issues has been their focal point in transfer windows. Putting all this aside, it still remains clear that City are far ahead everyone else and show no signs in stopping the amazing form which continues from last season as their impressive numbers continue.

So then, what separates the ‘best’ teams from the ‘good’ teams in the Premier League?

There seems to be large gap in quality between the ‘big 6’ teams and the rest of league at this moment in time. Their consistency over recent seasons has been on a different level compared to every other team with only Everton being the only team threatening to add to that list in the 16/17 season under Koeman. That season, they were looking as if they had potential, where they fell short of 8 points of making the top 6. Since then, no other team has really challenged to make it as the next big Premier League team. However, this season Bournemouth and Watford have made promising starts to their campaigns but it would still be necessary to predict that the usual big 6 teams will claim the top 6 spots in the league.

Mo Salah (right) celebrating a goal with teammate Roberto Firmino (left)

This season there seems to be a new ‘top 3’ evolving where each team can claim to the best in the country. This being the three title-winning favourite Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. City ran away with the league last season and that would be their reason to claim themselves as the best in the land, and rightly so. However, Liverpool did reach the Champions League final but it would seem that their domestic performance had let them down. It is only them and Chelsea that are the only teams this season to make a statement saying that they’re capable of reaching Manchester City’s heights since Pep Guardiola has put elite English football on a whole new level. Squad depth and style of football look as if they’re the main factors, from what the public can see, that separate the ‘top 3’ from the rest of the table. It is Pep Guardiola and the Manchester City board who has brought in the idea that you have to be ambitious and spend to break into the elite bracket of football. And so far, Liverpool and Chelsea are the only two teams who have followed the same principle. So in order to break into the ‘top 3’, modern day football tells us that you need investment which therefore takes every other Premier League team outside the top 6 out of the equation to make it as one of the best and the same principle lies across the rest of Europe’s top 5 leagues, where team such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus and PSG prove this point. Only lower level football can disprove this point, where any team could make the play offs as that is proven every season. This point brings us to the fact that money may be becoming the new face of football, displacing passion and love for the game which seems to be decaying within itself.

Zooming in on the ‘top 3’, I wonder myself if there is a gap within itself. I mention how Pep’s Manchester City have set new heights for themselves and the rest of the country but they themselves have proven that they are staying at that height. Whereas for Liverpool and Chelsea, who sit below closely behind them in the league, it seems like a massive effort to climb the mountain that lies ahead of them in order to reach Manchester City’s height. So we can discuss the title race and debate who will win it at the end of the season but it is important that we analyse what each team is capable of and how big a step it is to reach the level of the teams in front of them. Personally, I see Manchester City winning the league for two consecutive seasons because of the expectations they have set themselves. We have talked about expectations before which teams have previously met but another team has still surpassed them. But we are talking about Manchester City. These are levels and expectations that have never been seen before. If they keep up this level of consistency for the next few seasons, they will undoubtedly go down as the best team in Premier League history, which would see them takeover Sir Alex’s great Manchester United team and Arsene Wenger’s invincible Arsenal team. If Liverpool or Chelsea were to take City’s throne away from them, then it would be one of the club’s greatest achievements. Just imagine another team being better than City at this current moment of time. It doesn’t seem possible right now and that emphasises the mountain that other teams have to climb to reach this Manchester City team that exceeds all expectations.

How long will Manchester City’s reign last?

Pep Guardiola signed a new contract with Manchester City in summer 2018, extending his contact until 2021.

It’s clear that their reign will only last whilst Pep is in charge. Pep’s previous teams, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, both reached their peak whilst Pep was in charge. Both have sustained their ‘elite’ status since but have never hit the levels they hit with Pep in charge. Barcelona had one of the greatest sides football has ever seen when Pep was in charge but haven’t quite hit the same greatness since. So with that fact in place, it seems like City would be unlikely to maintain their greatness when he decides to leave the club. And this has already been shown this season for Manchester City’s first Champions League game against Lyon where they had lost 1–2 to the French team as Mikel Arteta, Pep’s assistant manager, took on the role to lead the team for that night as Guardiola spent the night in the stands following his ban due to his actions towards the referee in the 2nd leg of the quarter final against Liverpool in the Champions League the previous season.

It seems likely that Manchester City will dominate English football, and potentially European football, for the next few seasons. It is that likelihood that makes it obvious to wonder if there is a bigger gap at the top of the Premier League than we really think it is.