You may think that there is enough unpredictability in the world at the moment, but the extra unpredictability of the English Premier League season is more than welcome.
Just when you think it is all settling down then a team elbows its way into the pack or finds itself dragged right back into the middle of it. With the New Year chimes of Big Ben sounded and the halfway point in view, just four points separate the top seven teams.
The narratives surrounding each of the more-entertaining-than-magnificent seven contenders have all been turned on their head at some point of this campaign. This has to be better than a number of recent seasons where there hasn’t been much of a race to speak of.
That was definitely the case with Liverpool’s triumph and while the dominant team last season are leading now, they don’t look quite so imperious. The champions ate Christmas dinner sitting on a nice four point cushion, following a 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace. Despite the serious injuries to Virgil Van Dijk, Thiago, Joel Matip and Diogo Jota, Jurgen Klopp’s men seemed to have everything in hand.
With just two points collected from the following three games, however everything has changed. After Monday’s 1-0 loss to Southampton, and one of the worst displays for some time, the Reds are still top but only on goal difference and the team in second have a game in hand.
Incredibly, Manchester United are the team breathing down Liverpool’s neck. For much of the season, the talk surrounding Old Trafford has been of whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the man for the job and whether Paul Pogba should be shipped out. Yet with 26 points out of a possible 30, here they are mounting a serious challenge for the title. Victory over Burnley next week will send them to Anfield three points clear - unthinkable just a month ago - and given the current form of the two rivals, a win at Anfield would not be a surprise. It could be that United will soon have a six points lead over the champs.
That does not mean they will be six points clear at the top, however. Leicester City is just a point off the pace and has been impressive in recovering from setbacks this season. It was all supposed to be over after a home defeat to relegation battlers Fulham at the end of November but the Foxes have lost just once in the following seven, a run that included a win at Tottenham Hotspur and a draw at Old Trafford. The 2016 champions are playing down their chances with talk of taking it all a game at a time. They may or may not be targeting the title but one thing is for sure, a 2021 success would be a lot less surprising than the one of five years ago.
And then there’s Tottenham Hotspur. Just a few weeks ago, especially after that 2-0 win over Arsenal, Spurs were looking good for a first genuine title challenge in decades and just as the discussion started, the North London club stumbled. Successive losses to rivals Liverpool and Leicester suggested that even under arch pragmatist Jose Mourinho, the club that last won the title when JFK was president, didn’t have what it takes. A fine 3-0 win over Leeds United was needed and it means that Spurs are still in the mix.
As are Manchester City. With 17 points from the last seven games, 14 scored and just two conceded, Pep Guardiola’s men are coming into form at the right time. City’s next six games before a February meeting with Liverpool are all very winnable especially if they play as they did in the weekend’s win over Chelsea. Being fifth and being installed as title favourites may be unusual but City, seemingly an afterthought for much of the season, are squarely part of the conversation.
The same may not be able to be said of Everton and Southampton but in this most unpredictable of seasons, who knows?