It’s only a month since we last did one of these, but actual football can cause quite dramatic swings it turns out. For good and bad. Leeds were 18th four weeks ago. We thought they were f*cked! But at least so did everyone else! Because of the American!
Anyway. Top spot is pretty obvious right now, but where on earth should Liverpool and Manchester United go? Come and marvel at how drastically wrong we’ve got it one way or the other.
The last update, in which we gave Jesse Marsch absolutely no chance and Arsenal only slightly lengthier shrift, can be found here…
1) Arsenal (6)
Still myriad ways it can go wrong, and we are talking about Arsenal Football Club here, but for now just bask in the ways it is going gloriously, magnificently right. Arsenal fans do have a well-earned reputation for going overboard in both positive and negative directions.
There they were online in March talking about how Arteta’s tactical nous meant they would probably reach the Champions League semi-finals this season. There they were again in June suggesting Spurs signing Yves Bissouma would take them 25 points clear of the Gunners. You’ve got to love it really.
We tried to pour lukewarm piss on their giddy chips in July and are now holding our piss-soaked hands up and eating piss-soaked humble pie.
You were right to be giddy. Anybody would be giddy right now. Gabriel Jesus is better than actual Jesus and William Saliba has the catchiest chant of the year. Arsenal are not only the one team with maximum points right now but also the one team to have produced three compellingly complete performances. They also have comfortably the best early-season fixtures of anyone (which is weird because you’d think the widespread conspiracy against them would prevent such things) which raises the very real prospect of things getting giddier still before it starts to go awry some time around October.
Still, though, that’s ages off and the reasons to be giddy are many and valid. Even the most drearily level-headed fanbase in the land would be getting a bit of twitch on about it all.
2) Crystal Palace (9)
The win over Villa felt like a significant moment. This Palace team has always been capable of catching the eye under Patrick Vieira, but there was something about the swagger and verve of that victory over a team that should in theory be a mid-table rival. It’s not that Palace haven’t beaten teams like Villa or better plenty of times before, it’s just that they’ve rarely done so with such panache. They are great fun, and right now Vieira is a clear winner among the three all-time great Premier League midfielders giving Premier League management a crack.
3) Leeds (18)
Jesse Marsch is making fools of us all and it is marvellous. Eighteenth? A month ago? Superb nonsense from us, there. We weren’t alone in thinking this would surely all go wrong, and there remains every chance, but for now it’s all going rather splendidly. Red Bull gives you wins, and a pretty annoying draw against Southampton actually. Still, though. Leeds fans who mourned the end of Bielsaball are understandably quite excited to have so quickly found something else to believe in. For a club like Leeds, it could easily have been another 20 years before that happened.
4) Nottingham Forest (1)
Collision with reality has done little to dampen the excitement at Forest, who have also been busy signing all the footballers. They sit above both Manchester United and Liverpool in the current league table, which is true for an unexpectedly large number of clubs and is hilarious in each and every such case. We’re going to try not to mention this every time it applies, but can’t promise we’ll manage.
5) Fulham (15)
Let’s be honest, who among us isn’t a bit giddy that Aleksandar Mitrovic appears to have at last turned into a Premier League footballer? Imagine supporting his team. Huge climbers.
6) Newcastle (4)
Are now annoyed at not beating Manchester City. Perhaps the most important thing with Newcastle, though, is not their own results and performances. We knew they would be half-decent this year, everyone expected that. But that they so quickly look proper contenders for Europe owes at least as much to half the Big Six looking various shades of shambolic and the most recent ‘best of the rest’ sides – Leicester and West Ham – both looking like broken teams at the end of their particular journeys. Newcastle already look like they should be at least seventh this season, which would be a perfectly acceptable staging post in their quest for world domination. But it now looks eminently possible that this need not be the limit of this season’s ambitions.
7) Tottenham (3)
Haven’t actually played that well, really, have they? Apart from about 30-odd minutes either side of half-time against Southampton, the most easily thrashed team in Premier League football when they have one of their moods. Then there’s the inconvenient fact that Arsenal look really good. But while the mood is undoubtedly not quite as giddy or chipper as it was earlier in the summer, there is a Champions League draw this week that will remind everyone of that unlikely snatching of fourth last year and also the fact that sitting joint third in the table, level on points with Manchester City and well clear of Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United on the back of 30-odd minutes of good football is a reason to be cheerful. Hard not to start wondering what might happen should they actually start playing well.
8) Brighton (7)
Yep, still buzzing. Just a very good start to the season from a side who somehow seem to have sold their two best players from last season and improved. Their next two Premier League games should be absolutely full of good vibes against fellow cheery sorts Leeds and Fulham. They’ve got Leicester after that, though.
9) Brentford (8)
Imagine watching your team cruise into a 4-0 half-time lead over even the very worst Manchester United. Must be absolutely tremendous. The sort of thing that even a last-minute defeat at Fulham can’t really undo. One game can’t sustain a mood indefinitely, but a game like that can go a long way in helping through the bad times. It’s one that will be talked about forever. “Remember that time we were 4-0 up at half-time against Manchester United?” is just a lovely thing to be able to say. We imagine.
10) Manchester City (5)
A draw at Newcastle will probably turn out not to be too bad in the grand scheme and there’s already enough evidence that Erling Haaland is going to do a lot of enormously entertaining things. More than all that, though, is the fact that the only team that could realistically be expected to sustain a challenge are already faltering alarmingly. A fifth Premier League title in six years already looks overwhelmingly likely, but the real vibes will come as and when Haaland starts doing Champions League bits. Rightly or wrongly, that competition is City’s real quiz.
11) Southampton (16)
Started the season by losing heavily from a winning position which was worryingly on brand for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s curio of a team. Since then they’ve won four points from losing positions, turning a 2-0 deficit against Leeds into a draw and beating Leicester 2-1 after not really seeming to bother much with anything until falling behind well into the second half. We don’t really know what they are and we’re not sure they do either. Will almost certainly beat a proper good team at some point and will probably follow it up by losing 9-0 in the very next game.
12) Chelsea (10)
Thomas Tuchel becoming a pantomime villain is a fun little Barclays plot-twist for the rest of us but probably not ideal if you’re a Chelsea fan. There’s also the nagging problem that they’ve been some degree of crap in two of their three games thus far and the one where they did play well they contrived not to win against Spurs of all teams. Lack of a reliable goalscorer raises the prospect of further daft dropping of points in a league that looks set to punish that harshly at the upper end this year. How close they ended up to both Spurs and Arsenal in last year’s final table felt deceptive. Must be at least a touch worrying how reasonable and indeed bridgeable that gap already appears now.
13) Liverpool (2)
We may finally this year see precisely what the Premier League would have looked like over the last five years if Liverpool had not made it interesting. We’d love to be wrong, but we don’t quite see Arsenal or Spurs – or Newcastle or Leeds or anyone else, alas – sustaining a meaningful title challenge against Manchester City.
The thing is, we know that in this era you can usually only afford to drop about 20 points to compete for the title, and Liverpool have already shed a third of those and there are still two games left in August. The draws against Fulham and Palace were dispiriting, but losing to this Manchester United is a huge buzzkill. They have looked… ordinary.
And while you think it can’t possibly all just fall apart for Klopp’s Liverpool that is kind of what happened to Klopp’s Dortmund at about this point. Look, it’ll probably all be fine, but ‘fine’ means finishing a distant second and maybe winning another cup. It’s grand, but it’s a long way from the Quadruple. TL;DR: Liverpool are no longer second in the mood rankings.
14) Wolves (14)
They did exactly this last season. Three ropey results to start the season, including a deeply unfortunate 1-0 defeat to Spurs, and then everything was pretty much fine. Certainly those new signings who impressed at White Hart Lane are enough to keep the mood from becoming too dark, especially with last season’s memories to fall back on. Nevertheless, that is 10 Premier League games without a win now and that is a lot. They haven’t won a league game since the first weekend for April, for goodness’ sake. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic things will improve, but until they do it’s hard to be too chipper about it all.
15) Manchester United (17)
Trickier now, isn’t it? Far easier to place had they been beaten by Liverpool, but it wouldn’t have been as funny so we’ll accept the brain-ache. That said, the very possibility of a Manchester United win being the funny outcome in a game is testament to the extent of their fall.
Victory over Liverpool and another shiny new signing buys time among the sort of fans who still rock up at Old Trafford in brand new tops and Norwich scarves, but the next revolt never feels far away. Monday night’s win over a hated rival is clearly important and the lift in mood real and justified. At the very least it showed a Manchester United willing to stand up and fight, which was not the case in the first two games of the season. But there was still something in the manner of the victory that showed the current status of winner and loser. This felt more like an upper mid-table side stunning a superior one than evidence United are back.
Seems mad that United can climb this table on the back of three points from three games, but again, perhaps that’s just another reflection of the new reality. Or that we don’t really know what we’re doing. That always remains a live possibility.
16) Bournemouth (13)
Back-to-back spanglings from Manchester City and Arsenal are unpleasant but probably still less significant than a decent beating of Aston Villa. That’s what everyone at Bournemouth has to keep telling themselves anyway, although it’ll be harder to hold that line if they come unstuck against fellow relegation battlers Liverpool this weekend. Scott Parker’s cardigan is another downside.
17) Everton (20)
The fans still seem relatively on board with Frank Lampard – certainly in comparison to what Villa fans think of Steven Gerrard – but from the outside looking in that feels a bit like a sunk-cost fallacy. Everton did lose to Villa after all, and another relegation scrap looks firmly on the cards. And the early signs are that this might not be a good year to be in one. There don’t look like being any Norwiches or Watfords around this year to make things easier. Still, at least Liverpool are also sh*t now.
18) Aston Villa (11)
It didn’t matter that Steven Gerrard was using Villa as a stepping stone for the obvious job we obviously all knew he obviously wants if he fulfilled the mutually beneficial requirement of making Villa good along the way. Instead an almost sarcastically short-termist transfer strategy of big wages to old players is currently backfiring horribly. And the fans have twigged it. They really don’t like him.
We honestly thought Gerrard was going to be good and feel a bit silly. The comparisons with Frank Lampard at Everton are inevitable and, even with Stevie G’s win over Super Frank this season the suspicion grows that Lampard is doing (slightly) more with (considerably) less. At least with Lampard’s Everton you can usually see what they’re trying to do. What kind of side Gerrard’s Villa are even trying to be is far harder to pin down, and not in a good way.
19) Leicester (19)
Fucking hell. At least they didn’t lose that penalty shootout against Stockport. But fucking hell. The defence is awful, the attack is misfiring and worst of all there’s just a dispiriting bleak emptiness to everything at Leicester right now. It feels like a road has reached its end and everyone is just waiting for someone to say it. Does anyone up to and including the man himself see Brendan Rodgers turning this around?
And who do they appoint next? Suddenly there seems no confidence that Leicester would get that right. The whole system of selling a key player each year while having a ready-made replacement was something close to alchemy and it worked remarkably well for a remarkably long time. It has stopped working.
20) West Ham (12)
We should have listened when everyone told us we kept putting them too high. Everyone else has now managed at least a point. West Ham don’t even have a goal to their names. Two years of progress and optimism appear to have evaporated in the space of one summer. There is plenty of misery around the Premier League already this season and a good chunk of it hovers over the London Stadium like a damp fart.