The Premier League's gone a little bit bonkers this season, hasn't it? Leicester at the top, defending champions Chelsea battling down around the relegation spots, an ex-Non League striker equalling a Premier League goalscoring record...
Elsewhere, Manchester United have reached the culmination of their rebranding, going from a beautifully brutal attacking team under Sir Alex Ferguson to a cagey, defensive exercise in watching paint dry, Spurs are unbeaten in 12 and have cut out almost all of the calamities which made them so Spurs-y, and Arsenal...well, Arsenal are under pressure after failing to buy midfield reinforcements and getting hit by injuries. Some things never change.
Usually when pundits say that the title is anyone's to win, they're just overhyping a pretty straightforward win for the current leaders while trying to keep ratings up for their TV channel, website or similar, but this season it's pretty much true. There are three teams together in the 'favourites' bracket, all with gaping weak spots in their squads, none of them strong enough to take advantage of their rivals' weaknesses.
Manchester City looked almost out of sight midway through September, before showing just how much their defence relies on Vincent Kompany with some spectacular collapses in his absence. To roll out the stat for the 7,000th time this week: In eight league games with Kompany in the side this season, City have conceded one goal. In five games without him, they've shipped 12, without a single clean sheet. Two wins, three defeats. When you're barely Europa League fodder when missing a single man, it's time for some introspection.
Arsenal sit alongside City on 26 points, and have already looked a striker and a midfielder short at various points of this season. The same weaknesses and points tally at this point last season would've seen them seven points off the top, with people already writing them off. This season, they're less than a game from the summit and second favourites.
Ending the trio are Manchester United, determined to grind their way to the title with or without any fit strikers. With their rivals flinging away points with cheerful abandon, it could be that Van Gaal's boring, boring United could sneak their way in under the radar. Or they could be found out by February and slide out of the race, both seem equally plausible.
The recurring theme among the Premier League's top teams seems to be their unprecedented fragility, turning what used to be a titanic duel between the best in the country into a grimy basement knife fight, where the winner is whoever manages to escape their trips to the bottom half of the table without dropping points too often.
Not a fan? You could probably justifiably blame Sky, BT Sport and the other TV companies out there. The ability to buy really good players used to be limited to the 'big clubs'. There was a Barcelona player on the market? He'd never have heard of Stoke, never mind him jumping at the chance to move there. Now more than ever though, money talks. Every mid-to-lower table team has a £10m+ star in it, who might previously have been a rotated squad player at Old Trafford. As more good players are available to middling clubs, fewer are available to the title chasers. That's simple maths.
This is the New Way, and it's draining the traditional depth of the Arsenals and Manchester Uniteds of the Premier League. In Spain, things are very different - the TV money is all funnelled upwards to Real Madrid and Barcelona. They're the ones who bring the revenue in, after all, and it means that they're able to keep their distance from the chasing pack. It also means that while they remain as strong as ever, with strength in depth to burn to the point that Barcelona have barely noticed selling a player who is comfortably Arsenal's best.
Is this the worst Premier League title race in years? It all depends what you want out of your season of watching football. It's certainly open, to the point that Spurs and even ninth placed Liverpool are still realistic (if unlikely) contenders, so you're likely to get drama all season long. If you prefer your title races to be decided by the massive games between first and second placed teams, though, you're going to be out of luck. This season is going to be as much about keeping players fit and healthy, avoiding slip-ups and taking advantage of opposition mistakes and making it to the end of the season on sheer force of will. It's not about the best team winning - because Manchester City's first XI would walk it. It's about the least-bad squad, and who that belongs to remains to be seen.
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