As the final whistle went at Anfield last Friday, a new Premier League record had just been set. Never before, since the invention of football in 1992, had there been such a void between the top and bottom clubs in the division. An eye-watering 77 points stood between Liverpool and the Huddersfield side they had just torn apart with such ease.
New records are often interesting titbits, quirky afterthoughts of matches that are stored up by the anoraks out there. Yet, this one was hardly the most enlightening if we’re being brutally honest. The gap between these sides was always going to be vast and Huddersfield’s dismal points total has only exacerbated the numbers. In fact, the record gap between top and bottom should only serve as a sideshow to what has been one of the more interesting and increasingly stark narratives of this season.
As Spurs limped to defeat against West Ham the following day, their 12th of the campaign, the gap between them, and at the time Manchester City in 2nd place, was an eyebrow-raising 19 points. By the end of the weekend, as Liverpool were supplanted at the top, that gap was up to 21.
It has been some time since we have seen such a chasm open up between the top two and everyone else, in the Premier League. What this rift reveals is far more interesting than an already relegated side being a million miles away at the bottom of the league. It’s a gaping void that is simply not going to disappear overnight and should be a cause of some real concern for those left on the wrong side of it.
Setting a precedent
One way or another we are going to have an outstanding football team miss out on the title this year. The standards set by Liverpool and Manchester City, have been relentless and, frankly, rather intimidating for all of those looking up and watching on.
A combined 174 goals and 58 wins from the top two only tells a fraction of the story. Both sides have played to such a high standard, that it seems they have sped off and left the rest of their top six peers well and truly coughing and spluttering in the dust behind them.
Whether or not they are setting a precedent this season remains to be seen in the coming years. However, the 192 points amassed by Manchester City since the start of last season make for grim reading for the chasing pack. They are showing no signs of slowing down or relenting, neither are Liverpool as it happens, who have matched their title rivals blow for blow. So what does this mean for this stylish, lofty duo and the remaining sides squabbling for the last two spaces in the top four?
A glance at the mad scramble for third and fourth place will tell you a lot about the stark gulf in class between the top two and the rest.
At the time of writing; Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United have lost 39 times between them. There are still two rounds of fixtures to go, so you can make a safe bet on that number jumping up a couple of notches before the cessation of hostilities. The numbers get worse. United and Arsenal have already let in a combined 100 goals thus far. In staggering contrast, the top two have let in just 42 between them.
Again, the figures in the goals against column tell only a fragment of this tale. You could make a reasonable case for at least two of this quartet being in general disarray as we finish 2018-19.
United are down in sixth and have a catalogue of issues to resolve, on and off the pitch. That leaky defence is just one on a number of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s growing “to do list” this summer.
Likewise, Chelsea, who remain a high profile soap opera; players wanting out and even in open revolt, fans unconvinced by the manager and question marks about the future of the owner. Both clubs need a lot of T.L.C this summer if they are to come back on the radar of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Arsenal remain in dreaded transition and simply unable to compete away from home, whilst their North London rivals are in dire need of multiple new recruits all over the park. The situation is very much in flux for the chasing pack as they gear up to claw back some respectability next season.
Only once before during the previous decade has the gap between first, second and the rest, been so dramatic. That was back in 2011/12 as City began to assert themselves at the summit of English football. A gap of 19 points that season, is on course to be eclipsed this season, as Liverpool remain right on City’s tail, in one of the best title chases for years.
You can argue that the above culmination of problems between their rivals has maybe distorted the numbers and somewhat exaggerated the gulf in class this season. However, what you cannot dispute, is the obvious hike up in class between Manchester City, Liverpool and their big-name rivals.
The top two are doing an awful lot right on and off the pitch. Recruitment remains bold and impressive by both clubs. Whilst the sheer relentless run of results from both sides has been dizzying. City have won 12 in a row, conceding just three times in the process. Liverpool are currently on their second-highest points total in their 127-year history. The cascade keeps flowing as the other clubs look on.
Making a case
Looking at the teams beneath them, you can make case for one or two of them reinforcing well in the summer and coming back strongly. Spurs are have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and have their best manager in generations to guide them. It’s already a frayed tagline, but they need players, and plenty of them if they are to significantly build on another season in the top four.
Manchester United have not been afraid to hurl nice, fat wads of cash at their endlessly sprouting issues. They continue to be linked to big names, and despite all the negativity, they too could come back fighting next season, with their pride so badly damaged. But even with their financial muscle, their defensive problems alone, could take hundreds of millions to fix.
Remarkably, Arsenal could still pinch a Champions League spot this season via the Europa League. That would surely represent an unbelievable piece of work by Unai Emery in his maiden campaign. However, even the Spaniard would privately admit that such an achievement would represent only a sticking plaster to the work that is required to make The Gunners genuine competitors once more.
Bridging the gap
While Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola should be endlessly on their guard against any hint of complacency; the squads that have been built and the standards set by the two new behemoths at the top of the English game are laid on truly solid foundations.
There are no guarantees in football, and another seismic summer transfer window will soon be upon us. There will be envious eyes fixed on the playing talent on exhibition at Anfield and the Etihad. Regardless of the rumours and transfer posturing, both clubs would be in a position of strength in any negotiation should Real or Barca come knocking on the door this summer. They would also likely be front of the queue for any of the top talent looking to make a move in the window, given their current elevated status in the game and growing riches.
Regardless of the transfer window and any undetermined variables; the chasm that has opened up between the top two sides in the Premier League and their illustrious rivals, will take some serious bridging. As is stands, barring a dramatic and semi-miraculous turnaround, it is a gap that none of the sides jostling for third and fourth this season, look capable of bridging.