The season is still in its very early stages. The transfer window is yet to close, but the early signs show, and the title odds at Unibet certainly back up, that it is looking like a one horse race for the EPL title this year. Of course, things can change rapidly and significantly in football, but regardless of whether the tight battle we have grown to love and almost expect in England’s top tier materialises, there is so much more to enjoy than merely which captain gets to lift the trophy come May.
The fight for the top four
When the Premier League first got to a position when the top four earned a place in the Champions League, and hence the beginning of the “top four” actually meaning something, those places were pretty much nailed on. There was even a fairly rigid and predictable Big Four group of teams. That gradually evolved, with the four teams changing, before becoming the Big Six. Now that is in danger of being shattered, both with original members looking increasingly in danger of falling out (sorry Man U fans…) and others showing all the signs of breaking down the door to force their way in.
Teams like West Ham, Brighton, Wolves and Leicester have all shown they are at least worthy of inclusion in the conversation. Newcastle look like they may be joining the party, too. What makes things more interesting is that Spurs and Arsenal, for far too long two teams that have failed to make the step up, finally seem to be on the verge of doing it.
All this makes for an intriguing battle between eight teams or more fighting for third place, all of whom have a genuine chance and belief that they are good enough to claim it.
The relegation scrap
The fight to stay in the Premier League is equally intriguing. Usually, there would be at least one side, perhaps two, doomed almost before a ball kicked. Bournemouth were in that role, with Fulham occupying the other slot in most people’s minds. Both teams have had encouraging starts, but the start is crucial for newly promoted clubs, as playing catch-up makes an already hard task a near-impossible one. The other arrival from the Championship – Notts Forest – have spent heavily in the window, bringing in a new team of players. It will take Steve Cooper a while to get them playing like a team, but early signs are encouraging.
All this is bad news for those teams relying on the new crop of clubs to provide a buffer between themselves and the trapdoor. Brentford look like they will be looking up the table rather than down it, which leaves the likes of Southampton, Everton and Leeds potentially in for a long season. Those qualities and stories are attached to them, which only adds to the spectacle.
The continuing car crash that is Manchester United
Love or loathe them – and most people fall into one camp or other – it is hard to take your eyes to what is happening at Old Trafford. Just when you assume they have hit rock bottom, they manage to fall lower. There is a long way to go in the season, but there isn’t a long time left in the transfer window and there is little doubt they need new faces in and old ones out. Ten Hag will have his work cut out not just trying to get a team together that is capable physically and mentally of putting a winning run together, but to do it under the intense spotlight that comes with the job and that is something he just will not be used to.