After only thirteen games, a large gap is beginning to grow between the top four and the rest of the league. Presently, Arsenal and Tottenham, 4th and 5th respectively, are separated by four points. This gives the top four at the very least a four point cushion, which is surprising. Tottenham have been a pretty good team this year, with one of the best goal differentials in the league. But while they are within reach, they find themselves four from the top four and seven from the top of the league table. A win and a loss by any of the top four will immediately put Spurs back in the discussion but they are close to falling completely out if they aren’t careful.
The gap grows even further when you consider the space between Tottenham and Manchester United in 6th. Currently, Tottenham are four points up on United, giving the top four an eight point cushion on the rest of the league. If you want to grow that space even more, take Arsenal out of the equation since they are two points behind Liverpool and Manchester City in 2nd and 3rd respectively. That’s six points above 5th and ten above 6th.
What we are beginning to see is the annual split in the league. Usually, this begins to take shape around Christmas time or slightly afterward. Teams begin to stay tightly compact in the league table. When the holiday crunch hits teams, the ones that survive tend to have a safe distance between themselves and the rest of the league. The split essentially creates several leagues within leagues. Generally, these leagues are:
The Race for the Title
The Race for 4th
The Race for Europa
The Race to Survive the Drop
While it is still very, very early in the season, these different leagues are beginning to take shape. In the Race for the Title, you have Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City. In the Race for 4th, you have Arsenal, who also falls in the Race for the Title, and Tottenham, who will need to pick up points ASAP or risk falling out of that race. Manchester United can be considered dark horses for this race as well, but the draw against West Ham on Sunday has severely crippled any chance they had previously.
As we move down the table, things begin to become much tighter. For the most part, Manchester United, Everton, Watford, West Brom, and Southampton will fight for Europa, though don’t count Stoke and Bournemouth out of making a run. The rest will be in the Also-Rans, mid-table mediocrity or the trying to survive against relegation.
So the question is, why is the top four splitting off so quickly? Most of us had predicted an incredibly close league this year, and yet, here we are. Ultimately, the same logic that was used to predict a close league can be used to explain the current state. That is, with anyone able to defeat anyone in this league, things were going to be close. This makes sense when you see that there are twelve points separating Manchester United from Sunderland at the bottom of the table, only one point more than the gap between them and Chelsea. So while the league is still very close, the teams at the top have been able to simply not fall to shock results as often as the rest of the league.
Be it from world-class players creating moments of magic, tactics have bamboozled the opposition of being able to get a consistent run of form going, the top four (five if you count Tottenham, who are down but not out) have been able to perform to expectations, instead of under as many did last year. In a league where anyone can beat anyone, the top four are beginning to rise above that.