Liverpool‘s 1-0 victory over Manchester City on Sunday did more than end the reigning Premier League champions’ unbeaten record this season; Mohamed Salah‘s decisive goal at Anfield also set up the prospect of the most unpredictable and open title race for years.
Only the most optimistic Arsenal supporter would argue against the suggestion that City, champions in four of the past five seasons, remain favourites to win the Premier League again this time, despite Mikel Arteta’s Gunners opening up a four-point lead at the top of the table following Sunday’s 1-0 win at Leeds and City’s loss at Liverpool.
But while the goals of Erling Haaland and the title-winning experience of Pep Guardiola’s squad give City the edge, there is a distinct sense that all of the so-called Big Six, and an emerging Newcastle United, are capable of achieving their respective ambitions this season.
Arsenal could yet surprise us all by emerging as champions. Leicester City in 2015-16 and Blackburn in 1994-95 both held their nerve to capitalise on strong starts and end the campaign by raising the Premier League trophy and Arsenal have now given themselves a cushion and momentum to go all the way and win a first title since Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” in 2003-04.
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Meanwhile, third-placed Tottenham Hotspur‘s 2-0 win against Everton on Saturday confirmed their best start to a season in the Premier League era — it is their best start for 59 years — yet Antonio Conte’s side have so far managed to avoid the spotlight and scrutiny that comes with challenging for a title. With Harry Kane‘s goals (nine in 10 games) and Conte’s track record of having won titles in England and Italy (with Chelsea and Juventus), Spurs are contenders and their trip to Manchester United on Wednesday will offer a true gauge of both clubs’ prospects this season.
United, who are in fifth position after Sunday’s goalless draw against Newcastle at Old Trafford, are clearly still some distance from being title challengers, but perhaps for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, they appear to have a manager with a coherent plan to take the club out of its decade-long malaise. Erik ten Hag has plenty of rebuilding to do, but his summer signings, particularly Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen, have significantly improved the team and United look to be a club that, finally, have everyone pulling in the same direction.
They won’t win the league this season, but victories against Liverpool and Arsenal so far show that United can rise to the occasion and, therefore, foster hope that they could win a cup and end a six-year silverware drought.
Just over a month ago, suggesting that Chelsea could enjoy a successful season would have seemed outlandish following the firing of coach Thomas Tuchel after three defeats in seven games. But since appointing Graham Potter as Tuchel’s successor, Chelsea have won five out of six under the former Brighton manager.
If they win their game in hand, Chelsea would move to within a point of Spurs and City and, having spent over £250 million on new players this summer, begin to look like a team that has just enjoyed a period of major reinforcement.
And although Liverpool are the one team in the Big Six that are unquestionably underperforming this season, winning just three of nine Premier League games to sit eighth, last week’s 7-1 Champions League demolition of Rangers and Sunday’s win against City proved that Jurgen Klopp’s team are still a side capable of beating anyone and winning any competition.
Klopp has a midfield to rebuild, there are defensive issues to address and £75m club-record signing Darwin Nunez has endured a difficult start to life in England, scoring just four goals in 11 games, but despite all of Liverpool’s problems, they are still one of the best teams in the world and capable of anything this season.
Shaka Hislop sings the praises of Liverpool after their 1-0 win over Manchester City.
Newcastle, under Eddie Howe, are the big threat to the established Big Six due to the immense wealth of their Saudi Arabia-backed owners. In time, Newcastle could go on to dominate as City have done in recent years if they are as astute and ambitious in terms of player recruitment. We are still some way from Newcastle being title challengers, they are overperforming so far this season (sitting in sixth position) and will be able to accelerate their plans by attracting better players if they secure European qualification.
There has rarely been such a Premier League season when all of the major clubs are in a position to win something. Throughout the 30-year history of the competition, there has often been one or two dominant teams, a couple in a period of transition, with the others lurching from one crisis to another.
Liverpool, United and Arsenal have all enjoyed great success, but also seasons of despair, while City and Chelsea were nothing more than also-rans — City spent a season in the third tier in 1998-99 — prior to each club being acquired by billionaires who transformed their fortunes and the makeup of the Premier League. Tottenham are still waiting for years of promise to come to fruition, while Newcastle’s hopes of recreating their exciting times under Kevin Keegan in the mid-1990s looked to be a distant dream until the Saudi takeover 12 months ago.
But for the first time, the stars are aligning for all of the top clubs to be competitive during the same period. City’s dominance might continue this season, but the 2022-23 season feels like a campaign that will signal a new era and could define what happens, and who wins, for the next 10 years.