Klopp, Guardiola (Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport)

Liverpool and Man City turn title-race marathon into sprint as Premier League’s ‘big six’ shifts

Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League by five points, with their and Man City‘s title race becoming a sprint, rather than a marathon.

Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea. No one will break up the top four, they said.

Then Man City came along with the financial clout to do just that, and Spurs’ shrewd operating plus the expert management of Mauricio Pochettino, made it a big six.

More big for your buck, if you’re a TV company, but it’ll be interesting to see where the broadcasters go with this ‘big’ idea following an unpredictable start to the new season.

The unbreakable big four was broken in and became a big six, and now it might be a big two, but what of the rest?

Before the season began, many suggested this could be the year for Leicester to return to the top six, or even the top four, while clubs such as West Ham, Wolves and Everton would be in with a shot at upsetting the apple cart.

Leicester and West Ham have begun the season well and sit in the top six along with the equally impressive Bournemouth.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2019: Everton's manager Marco Silva during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Sheffield United FC at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Everton and Wolves, meanwhile, have been disappointing.

Nuno Espirito Santo has struggled to juggle the Europa League and the Premier League, despite having a reasonably good squad at his disposal.

Marco Silva has underperformed similarly despite an array of attacking talent, England’s No. 1 goalkeeper (more on that later) and no continental distractions.

It is, of course, too early to come to conclusions—Silva, Nuno and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer certainly hope this is the case.

Clubs have made good early progress in the past before tailing off. The Premier League is football’s test match, a marathon not a sprint…that is unless you are Liverpool or Man City.

Everyone’s predicted title contenders are already flying at the top of the table. Man City destroyed Watford at the Etihad, while Liverpool scraped past Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but were obviously the better of the two sides.

After just six games there is already a six-point gap between the two Manchester clubs, and 10 points between Liverpool and their mighty big six opponents Chelsea.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 24, 2019: Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette (L) challenges Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Other than Man City and Liverpool, the only other big six club currently living up to their name is Arsenal, but with a goal difference of just +1 they haven’t exactly been convincing, either.

The battle below the title challengers could make for one of the most interesting Premier League seasons in years.

La Liga has always been entertaining despite the Barcelona and Madrid dominance, while the Bundesliga can also provide some of the best football matches and players in Europe, even though Bayern win the league every season.

Dominance by one or a couple of clubs helps create legacies and define eras, which is part of the game, and they don’t always last—as Liverpool and now Man United can attest to.

When a team finally disrupts the status quo, the longer the spell of dominance, the better it can feel for the team that breaks it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Monday, February 4, 2019: Liverpool's Adam Lallana (L) and West Ham United's Declan Rice during the FA Premier League match between West Ham United FC and Liverpool FC at the London Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If a new team manages to break the top four, never mind six, it will be even more exciting.

Remember what Manuel Pellegrini did with Villarreal in the Champions League? Why shouldn’t he do that with West Ham?

But as alluded to already, these are early days in the 2019/20 season, and it’s too early to congratulate any of these sides for gatecrashing the top six.


Notes from the Press Box

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 12, 2018: West Ham United's manager Manuel Pellegrini during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Speaking of Manuel Pellegrini, the Chilean must be one of the most underrated, unheralded managers in the Premier League.

All the talk after West Ham’s win at the London Stadium was of how bad “United” were, forgetting that this is also West Ham’s name, and that for “United” to lose, another team had to beat them.

Pellegrini has United among the top-six party poopers, rather than the bottom-half relegation avoiders.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 7, 2018: Liverpool's Naby Keita (R) and Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We’ve already highlighted the obvious Man City player, Kevin De Bruyne, with Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva also getting plaudits.

But on the quiet, Riyad Mahrez has been one of Man City’s best players so far this season.

In four starts the Algerian international, and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations winner, has two goals and four assists.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2019: Sheffield United's goalkeeper Dean Henderson celebrates his side's opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Sheffield United FC at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Unfortunately for England’s No. 1, Jordan Pickford, the last two games have seen him come up against two English goalkeepers who are performing better than him.

Not just in those particular games, but in the Premier League generally so far this season.

They’re at clubs which keep them busy, with Aaron Ramsdale making six saves at Southampton this weekend, while Dean Henderson was part of Sheffield United’s win at Everton, saving well from Moise Kean in a key moment.

Ramsdale might have seemed like a surprise pick ahead of Artur Boruc on the south coast, but has since proved Eddie Howe right.

At 21 and 22 years old respectively, Ramsdale and Henderson could be threatening to take Pickford’s place at international level in a few years’ time.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2019: Sheffield United's John Lundstram during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Sheffield United FC at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Apparently John Lundstram isn’t an experienced Danish international, but a 25-year-old, Liverpool-born, Liverpool-supporting, former Everton youth player.

Like the aforementioned Henderson, he played a big part in Sheffield United‘s win at Goodison Park, playing a perfect through ball to Lys Mousset, assisting the goal which sealed the win.

“Half our team are Scousers so it was a big day for them,” said United manager Wilder.

“I didn’t realise all of them were Liverpool fans to be honest. I thought Lunny supported Everton!”