Four-way fight only drama left in lifeless Premier League
IF you're the type of person who likes to make predications, how are your Premier League premonitions going so far? Mine went along the lines of Liverpool and Manchester City in another two-way title fight, Tottenham coming in third, Arsenal sneaking fourth, Wolves fifth, and Man United sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by Christmas.
What I didn't predict was the Norwegian staying on and how utterly inept so many teams would become. If you're not a Liverpool fan, this must be one of the most underwhelming seasons in Premier League history.
The title race was over before Christmas, the tension and anticipation eliminated like a spoiler shouted out midway through the movie. He's a ghost, it's a sled, he's your father!
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And this story begins, most confusingly, at the top. How did Manchester City become so inconsistent? Pep Guardiola's team, which lost just six games across the two previous seasons while collecting 198 points, was really just an expensive game of Kerplunk!, a meticulous intersection of lines and angles, ready to collapse if the wrong piece is removed.
That centreback Aymeric Laporte should be the key to all of Guardiola's plans is outrageous. His return after a five-month injury layoff coincided with City's first clean sheet of the year. Without Laporte, City conceded 27 goals in 24 games - four more than the entirety of season 2018-19, and almost double that of leaders Liverpool.
But Guardiola isn't the only one to suffer for a lack of planning. Chelsea, Tottenham, Man United have each have lost eight games already this season, with 14 more to play. Each team's goal difference is in single figures. And across the board the fault lies with, well, the board.
Spurs' failure to give Mauricio Pochettino the support he was asking for has led Tottenham right to where they are now, back outside the top four with a new coach the fans are already starting to despise.
The anger at the suits erupted into repulsive violence this week, with so-called fans gathering outside CEO Ed Woodward's house. Get a grip people! It's football!
But the anger is real. Since Solskjær was given the job full-time in March, United have lost more league games (12) than they have won (11). There has been enough written about the state of this great club so for now, let's just say United 0 Burnley 2.
At least Chelsea can be applauded for placing their trust in Frank Lampard, a beloved club figure but with little management experience. His inconsistent team have shown enough flashes of quality to suggest the Champions League remains in reach but still, at this point, the fourth-placed team are 24 points from the top but 23 points away from last-placed Norwich.
And it is Chelsea who hold the key to the last question at the big end of the table - who will claim that last Champions League berth?
The top three are pretty much sorted, with Leicester's eight-point lead in third place all but guaranteeing just rewards for Brendan Rodgers' team excellent season.
United, Spurs and Wolves are all six points behind Chelsea, hungrily eyeing Lampard's backside. And the Blues next three games … Leicester, United and Spurs, with City still to come and Liverpool and Wolves to end the season.
Other than the relegation battle and counting how many records Liverpool might break (possibly 20 at this stage goals scored and conceded, consecutive wins, most assists, points amassed, earliest title win…), the last slice of drama hangs on Chelsea's consistency.
The Blues' last two results - a 2-2 draw with a 10-man Arsenal and a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle - don't exactly fill you with confidence.
As we survey these train wrecks of Premier League dreams, it is important to note that we are only just in February. How could so many teams with so much money to buy so much talent have stuffed it up so badly? And with all due respect to Jurgen Klopp's near-all conquering side, how much of this is down to Liverpool's quality - and how much of it is down to the complete lack of quality everywhere else?
Even in City's 100-point 2017/18 season, when they finished 19 points ahead of Jose Mourinho's United, after 24 games the gap between first and second was only 12. After beating West Ham, Liverpool are on 70 points after 23 wins from 24 games and 19 points ahead of City, which also would have the Reds on track to beat City's 100 points.
That isn't a competition, it's a procession. Stand back and applaud Klopp's relentless attitude and drought-breaking achievement, just as we did with City two seasons ago. Then shake your head and use your very worst language at the Premier League's big guns' shambolic short-termism, profligate spending and sheer bloody awfulness.