There are currently two different Premier Leagues: one that is home to the three teams at the top, the other where the 17 teams below them toil. The lower 17 are all fairly evenly matched, and their task is to claw from one another enough points to hopefully qualify for European play or at least avoid relegation. The contest between the three title contenders is different. It’s not so much whether they beat their weekly opponents, but rather how large those victories wind up being. The members of the big three play against the other 17 clubs, but their only real competition is between one another. Put another way: one Premier League fights with swords, while the other one fights with nukes.
On Wednesday, the big three—Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool—all had away matches against pretty solid opposition: Chelsea at Watford, City at Aston Villa, and Liverpool at Everton. Unsurprisingly, all three came out victorious. The headlining match was the Merseyside Derby. Everton came in with a smart gameplan built around stymieing Liverpool defensively and hitting out on obscenely direct counters led by the fast and tricky trio of Richarlison, Demarai Gray, and Andros Townsend. The plan was about as successful as it could’ve been. The Toffee’s deep and compact defense gave the Reds trouble at times, and the home team created a handful of legitimately dangerous counters. In spite of that, Liverpool still crushed their local rivals, 4–1, while hardly breaking a sweat:
Man City and Chelsea didn’t have quite as easy outings, though they still came away with a pair of 2–1 wins. City controlled its game from start to finish, and despite the tight scoreline, that match was closer to a big City win than a draw:
Chelsea were, by their own admission, lucky to steal three points from Watford. Watford split possession equally with the European Cup holders and outshot them 14–8. Nevertheless, behind its nearly impregnable defense and with a couple timely interventions from its attack, Chelsea ensured itself the victory that kept it at the top of the table:
At just about the halfway point of the season, the evidence that the title contenders are playing a different game than everyone else is glaring. Only two points separate Chelsea in first from Liverpool in third, while there are seven points between Liverpool and fourth-placed West Ham. Those four teams are the only ones in the division who currently have a positive goal difference, with Chelsea at plus-27, Man City at plus-21, Liverpool at plus-31, and West Ham way back at plus-eight. Meanwhile Manchester United’s fifth-best goal difference of zero is only seven better than Watford’s third-worst minus-seven. Combined, the big three have lost a total of four matches; every other team in the league has at least four losses by themselves, except Brighton, with three.
There’s no reason to expect this scorching pace to abate. Those three make up three of the four best teams in the world at the moment, and their dominance of the Premier League is a fair reflection of that eminence. Chelsea, Man City, and Liverpool will continue to pile up wins and goals, and the difference between them at the end of the campaign will be just a couple slip-ups or missed chances. The margin at the top is incredibly thin, and the eventual title winner will be the one who comes closest to realizing perfection. So expect many more big-three wins and many more blowouts, as the top of the Premier League demolishes everything beneath it to prove which team is the best.