Man City defender John Stones gets advice from manager Pep Guardiola – City are the only side in the Premier League currently firing on all cylinders
Answer to the question in the headline: Yes, I think it is.
Just a glance at the teams currently in the bottom half of the Premier League tells you that this is no ordinary season. Arsenal are down there, which is very unusual. So too Wolves, who have shone in the last couple of years and qualified for European football. Then you have Leeds United, the entertainers, managed by one of the great tactical minds in all of football (so we are told) – all well and good, but they’re struggling somewhat in 12th. Crystal Palace are hot-and-cold too, but they have some first-class attacking players, such as Wilf Zaha and Ebe Eze.
Further down the table, you have Graham Potter’s Brighton, who have been a lovely team to watch at times. In other years, they would surely be higher than 16th. The same goes for Fulham, who played Spurs off the park for long spells in their recent contest. Like almost every team in the league now, Fulham boast some wonderfully gifted players: Bobby Decordova-Reid, Ademola Lookman and Andre-Frank Anguissa, to name just three. Yet the Cottagers lie 18th, which is at odds with their recent performances.
Or is it? Perhaps Fulham’s league position is a clue that the Premier League is stronger than ever. Or deeper than ever. There are only four genuinely weak teams in the English top flight right now: Newcastle, Burnley, West Brom and Sheffield United (all have English managers, if that means anything). That feels like significantly fewer than at any other time. But even three of those four (sorry, Blades) manages to be competitive from time to time.
It’s no different at the top of the table, where half a dozen teams are involved at some level in the title race, from unlikely leaders Man Utd down to Everton in sixth. Usually it’s two or three contenders. Four is very rare. In the mid-table, you have Chelsea (7th), Southampton (8th), West Ham (9th) and Aston Villa (10th). Those are all strong sides, all capable of beating any of the teams above them. In Chelsea’s case, it’s a very strong team that has yet to discover its best way of playing.
With a league that has so much depth, no wonder there is no team running away with it, which is something that has happened recently: Man City and Liverpool have both dominated whole seasons, but it seems that other PL clubs have adapted very quickly to their successes. The chaos caused by the pandemic is almost certainly a factor too.
Unlike in the rest of Europe’s top leagues, where the usual suspects maintain a rather tedious, almost oligarchical stranglehold over their rivals year after year (Bayern and Dortmund; Real, Barca and Atleti; Juventus and the two Milans, although – let’s face it – mostly Juve), the Premier League is once again showing why it fascinates the neutral fan in all corners of the world. One of sport’s best qualities is unpredictability, and the Prem offers that far more than its competition.
As the season goes on, normal service may well be resumed in these far-from-normal times. Arsenal will creep up the table. Man City and Liverpool may well find themselves back on top, with daylight between them and the rest. Man Utd and Leicester will probably fall away. Spurs will do Spursy things. But for now, let’s enjoy the ‘Any Given Saturday’ nature of the league.