The Premier League is as competitive as it has ever been. There are six teams all with the desire and, crucially, the quality to win the Premier League title.
Leicester City’s triumph last year didn’t just herald a fairytale victory for the ugly duckling, but it served to provide a fascinating backdrop to the following season: the Premier League’s top clubs are nursing some some bruised egos this year, the fact that no one could thwart the magnificent Foxes has had a knock-on effect, whilst some of the duller performers from last year have taken the ultimate step of replacing managers.
Only half of the managers of the current top six were in their jobs at the end of last season, indeed those three are the only managers in the Premier League’s top half to manage their club in the Premier League last season.
The famous three, Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp, are the managers of the three teams in the league who have the best platform on which to build this season. And, perhaps by the end of the season we’ll be seeing that continuity is king.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have looked both scintillating and off-the-pace at various points this season, whilst Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have floundered somewhat since their Manchester derby defeat in September. That serves to underline the main point: that each of these clubs are on some sort of a journey, and some are further along the path than others. What that means in practice is that Liverpool, for example, are one year closer to Klopp’s vision than Manchester City are to Guardiola’s.
The clubs who have had time to work are clearly going to be the better-equipped. Perhaps the biggest game of the season so far was Tottenham Hotspur’s victory over Manchester City at White Hart lane in early October. It was an important win for Spurs. Not just because it was a victory over a title rival, and not just because it was a defeat that left Manchester City reeling (they’ve won one one Premier League game since). But because it was a victory that proved the benefits of time.
It turns out that City-Spurs was one of the most intense games of football you’re likely to see this season, and mostly because both teams play in a very similar style – they both like to press high and they both like to play out from the back, though perhaps to varying degrees of extremity.
What we have to remember, though, is that City have only been playing in that particular fashion for a couple of months, whereas Mauricio Pochettino has had years to implement that system at Tottenham – his players are just more used to doing it than Guardiola’s. Crucially, though, they are more used to thinking on their feet in the game. The difference isn’t that one manager is better at coaching than the other, it’s that after a few years of doing it, Pochettino’s players are able to adapt to the game itself and think on their feet. And that sort of canny ability comes only with experience.
And in a tight title race, that may be the difference. When things are so even, you always look for something to break the tie and to tip the balance in someone’s favour. And if you can’t find that tiebreaker in form nor personnel, in management or in team spirit, you might still find it in experience.
Or you might not. This promises to be one of the most thrilling title races in years involving multiple teams with big players and even bigger managers. But only one team can win it, so something will make the difference in the end.