Premier League becoming predictable.
By Diane Cooke
It was only a few weeks ago that stories were circulating about how well the promoted clubs - Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle - were doing in the Premier League.
Now the mood has changed as the fight to stay up becomes increasingly congested.
Sky Soccer Saturday pundits are all predicting one or two of them will go down.
Albion, Newcastle and Huddersfield are in the thick of the battle in the bottom half of the table after bad runs.
Jacob Steinberg writing in The Guardian says fans of the lesser clubs in the league are frustrated because their teams don't stand a chance against the top six of Man United, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool.
"Look at the Premier League table and it is quicker to tick off the happy clubs. Manchester is an obvious place to start, while Chelsea are the champions and Tottenham Hotspur have not had it this good since 1961. It is still all new and exciting for the promoted clubs, while Marco Silva has breathed fresh life into Watford and Sean Dyche continues to work wonders at Burnley. Bournemouth’s fans, although their team have made a poor start, have enough perspective to remember the club almost going out of business in 2009.
"But the likelihood is that Watford will finish no higher than seventh and it is then that they will find themselves in a position occupied by clubs of similar stature in recent years, peering upwards and wondering without being able to feel the sky’s the limit. It is this stifled ambition that condemns the top flight’s cramped middle, exacerbating their frustration, stripping them of the right to dream of anything grander than simply existing."
Leicester City winning the title two seasons ago offered some hope for English football’s unpredictability, if only that team had stayed together. Instead N’Golo Kanté joined Chelsea, who restored order last year, and Leicester have appointed Claude Puel as their latest manager after sacking of Craig Shakespeare.
Fans have often criicised the two-tier effect of the Premier League. Manchester City is way ahead with the best of the rest trailing far behind, then there are the also rans. The thing that marks the best team in the league and the best of the rest apart is goal difference.
And the gulf in class between the top seven and the rest of the league is getting more severe, and this has been seen in the thrashings Man City have delivered at numerous times this season, and fairly painfully (for Southampton fans), in Spurs’ demolition of Saints on Boxing Day.
Seb Greenwood writing for Commentary Box writes: "One of the things that has historically made the Premier League great has been the fact that anything can happen on match day.
"And it was this characteristic that elevated the league beyond the formulaic and predictable European leagues, like Serie A, La Liga and Bundesliga.
"In a lot of leagues around Europe, a duopoly is the best that most fans can hope for, with a huge gulf in class between the crème de la crème and the rest of the league.
"And whilst the Premier League hasn’t quite reached the level of a duopoly yet, what is clear is that the better teams are getting better, and the worse teams are staying bad (or getting worse)."