Seven games into the Premier League season and ahead of the biggest game of the season so far, it’s looking increasingly like there’s going to be a three-way fight for the title.
Liverpool and Manchester City were always going to be the two title favourites, with the vast majority of pundits expecting their fresh rivalry to dominate the race for the top spot. But Chelsea have emerged as potentially the season’s surprise package, with Sarriball taking full flight, Jorginho an electrifying metronome at the heart of their midfield, and Eden Hazard finding the form of his career – the kind of form that has propelled his side to multiple Premier League titles before.
It’s interesting to see a three-way title bout begin to unfold, with Liverpool and Chelsea already giving us an absolute humdinger in their 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, before the Reds face the defending Champions.
And it’s easy to see why all three teams look extremely competitive. They’ve scored the most goals (City 21, Liverpool and Chelsea 15 each), and conceded the least (Liverpool and City 3, Chelsea 5) goals and obviously, they’ve won the most games.
But right now, the early front-runners are hard to pick out. City on paper are the most impressive so far, with the highest xG in the league (21.41 compared to Liverpool’s 16.23) and the lowest xGA (3.57 compared to Liverpool’s 4.83) reflecting the fact that they’ve scored comfortably the most goals so far in the league and are matching the Reds defensively.
But the numbers, it could be argued, reflect the calibre of opposition. Liverpool have had to travel to both Wembley to play Spurs and of course, the Bridge to play Chelsea, whilst City’s toughest opposition has been Arsenal, and so far they’ve played five of this season’s bottom six. Liverpool in contrast, are yet to face any of the bottom four, although they have faced the teams 13th-16th.
Chelsea on paper still look slightly weaker candidates, having only the 5th best xG in the league behind Spurs and Bournemouth as well as the top two, and the 4th best xGA behind Wolves and the top two. Nevertheless, they have been excellent in terms of results, unbeaten and dropping points against just an improved West Ham and Liverpool.
Certainly, the best gauge of where the current top two are at will come at the weekend, as the much-anticipated match at Anfield kicks off on Sunday. There should be some interesting odds on who will win this game and plenty of websites that always have good football tips for the weekend’s fixtures.
Personally, I think that Liverpool still have to be considered favourites for the match, given their recent tactical and mental advantages over Man City in the three games they’ve played in 2018. But nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that City can’t be favourites for the league based on what we’ve seen so far. Liverpool possibly have the stronger form, but City look somewhere close to their imperious best, albeit against lesser opposition. And that’s before you consider the return of talisman Kevin De Bruyne.
As for Chelsea, the opening seven games of the season have highlighted that their flaws and strengths are all meshed together, and they look a slightly weaker overall prospect still. Jorginho is a phenomenal passer, but against a team who doesn’t press and won’t be played through, it requires more guile than they have in their midfield to penetrate. If Eden Hazard can be shut out of a game, Chelsea’s lack of offensive weapons becomes painfully obvious. Having a player in the form of his life, and one of the best players in the league is a perfect scenario, but Liverpool and City both have far more well-rounded offensive lines, with more support from other players.
Defensively, what’s interesting is that Liverpool look the hottest prospect. Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are forming a stellar partnership and new goalkeeper Alisson is answering the questions asked of him. It took a Chelsea team near their best to even trouble a Liverpool backline that hasn’t really been troubled in the league at all, with Spurs barely threatening them and only a big mistake from Alisson allowing a good chance against any of the other five teams that the Reds have faced.
City continue to look reasonably sturdy, but there’s always a sense that a good team can take them apart, and that’s been the case at times. Nevertheless, it’ll be a big test of both the top two’s defences when they run into each other at the weekend.
Regardless, all three teams have made very strong starts, and it can only be a good thing for the Premier League to have three very strong league teams this year. With Liverpool making their best start in Premier League history, and Chelsea settling into their rhythm quickly under an exciting new manager, Pep Guardiola and his team may not find this season quite as easy as they did last year, although they still remain mathematically on course to score over 100 points again this year, and right now, nobody seems capable of getting close to them on the field. We’ll have to see if Klopp’s side can buck that trend.