Manchester City's Erling Haaland at the end of the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium. Alamy Stock Photo

Is it set to be the most open Premier League title race in years?

Man City are showing signs of vulnerability and were beaten by rivals Arsenal just before the international break.

AS IT stands, just four points separate Premier League leaders Tottenham and sixth-place Brighton.

Granted, only eight games have been played, but amongst most football fans, there is hope, though not necessarily expectation, that it could be the most open, unpredictable and exciting title race in years.

English football was once celebrated for its lack of a single dominant team and the widespread belief that even the weakest sides in the top flight are capable of pulling off an upset on any given day.

However, a cursory glance at recent seasons highlights that such sentiments no longer apply.

There is concern that Man City have already become the equivalent of Bayern Munich in Germany, PSG in France and Real Madrid/Barcelona in Spain. Essentially, a side that on the rare occasions they don’t win a title feels like a monumental feat of ineptitude.

City have at least been tested at times while winning five of the past six league titles.

Last year, Arsenal finished just five points behind them and were top of the table for a significant portion of the season.

Before the Gunners’ rise, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool — the only other side to lift the title in the last six seasons — were their main rivals.

There were two seasons where City pipped Liverpool to the title by just a single point (2021-22 and 2018-19).

However, the other campaigns in question have felt more like a procession — City won the title by 12 and 19 points in 2020-21 and 2017-18 respectively, with Man United the distant runners-up on both occasions.

The only year Liverpool triumphed was by a similarly comprehensive margin — 18 points in the 2018-19 pandemic-interrupted season.

Just before City became England’s dominant club, in Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea claimed the 2016-17 title ahead of Spurs by a comfortable enough margin of seven points.

Even the campaign of Leicester City’s stunning victory, 2015-16, was more one-sided than you might remember — the Foxes finished a full 10 points ahead of second-place Arsenal.

Chelsea also triumphed in 2014-15, eight points ahead of Manuel Pellegrini’s Man City.

So you have to go back a decade, to the 2013-14 season, for the last instance of a genuinely close title race involving more than two teams.

That season saw Pellegrini’s City beat Liverpool by two points, who finished two points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in third, who themselves finished three points ahead of fourth-place Arsenal.

Could a similar scenario take place 10 years on? 

Man City are naturally once more the favourites to prevail this year.

Should they succeed, not only would it consolidate their dominance, but it would be the first time in English football history that one side has won four titles on the bounce.

Not even the great Liverpool, Man United or Arsenal sides of the past ever managed this unprecedented feat.

However, City have shown signs of wobbling of late.

Ahead of the new season and on the back of last year’s treble, important squad players like Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan and Aymeric Laporte have departed.

The reigning champions have also not been helped by the absence through injury and suspension at times of key players, including Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

The recent defeat to rivals Arsenal meant they lost back-to-back Premier League fixtures for just the third time since Guardiola took charge. In addition, the Carabao Cup loss to Newcastle last month means they cannot top last season by winning the quadruple.

However, there remains justifiable scepticism amid talk of City’s potential downfall.

In their first 24 games last season, there were signs of inconsistency, as they drew four and lost four.

However, a subsequent 12-match winning run during the business end of the campaign was enough to get them over the line.

Similarly, the season before, City ended up dropping points in four of their opening 10 games before proceedings to win 15 of their next 17, while going unbeaten in their last 10 league fixtures, winning all but three of them.

Although their recent results will be of some concern to Pep Guardiola, it is not a drastically dissimilar scenario to the minor setbacks they have experienced before.

Perhaps a more salient question is whether their rivals have the capability to keep pace with the Etihad outfit in the long run.

Tottenham have done remarkably well so far, as reflected by Ange Postecoglou enjoying the rare feat of winning back-to-back manager-of-the-month awards.

However, the table toppers have benefitted from a fair degree of luck. Their last three wins are a case in point — they went down to 10 men and Luton missed some gilt-edged chances in the 1-0 victory just before the international break, while they benefitted from the now-infamous VAR error against Liverpool and needed goals in the 98th and 100th minute to beat Sheffield United — surely they cannot retain this degree of good fortune until the end of the season.

Also, their bench against Liverpool comprised Fraser Forster, Emerson Royal, Ben Davies, Ashley Phillips, Oliver Skipp, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Manor Solomon, Alejo Veliz and Jamie Donley. There is a lack of experience evident, particularly in the attacking areas, which means they could seriously struggle if the injuries start to pile up.

That said, similar accusations were levelled at Leicester City in 2016, and like the Foxes then, Spurs do not have European football to contend with this year and are already out of the League Cup.

Conversely, Arsenal have to worry about Champions League football this season — last year, they could afford to invariably play an understrength team in the Europa League.

On the other hand, they definitely have a superior squad this time out, with the hugely talented quartet of Declan Rice, David Raya, Kai Havertz and Jurriën Timber all joining in the summer.

The other side occupying the top four currently, Liverpool, have also started the season encouragingly for the most part.

Their revamped midfield appears to have adapted seamlessly, with Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endō and Ryan Gravenberch impressing, after they were signed in the summer for a combined cost of approximately £145 million (€167 million).

The Reds also have arguably the best attacking options of any Premier League side — so far, the quintet of Mo Salah, Darwin Núñez, Diogo Jota, Luis Díaz and Cody Gakpo have contributed 20 goals in all competitions.

Their defence though has been less impressive — some critics argue recent injury problems mean that Virgil van Dijk is no longer at the level that originally convinced Liverpool to make him the world’s most expensive defender while they could be vulnerable in other areas too — whether Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive susceptibility will be costly in the long-term is a regular source of debate and consternation among fans.

So all of the contenders are flawed and City rightly remain favourites, though they need their form to pick up soon and face a tough test this weekend — a Brighton win at the Etihad on Saturday is far from inconceivable and would see the Seagulls leapfrog Guardiola’s men in the table.

It looks set to be a fascinating few months ahead.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures (all games kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)


Liverpool v Everton (12.30)
Bournemouth v Wolves
Brentford v Burnley
Man City v Brighton
Newcastle v Crystal Palace
Nottingham Forest v Luton Town
Chelsea v Arsenal (17.30)
Sheffield United v Man United (20.00)


West Ham v Aston Villa (16.30)


Tottenham v Fulham (20.00)

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