On Saturday, Spurs played Liverpool. That’s a big game, right? You know it is. Spurs. Liverpool. Big teams equal a big game. Premier League. Lions roaring. Let’s do this.
Also on Saturday, a mid-table team under new management played another team that was 28 points ahead of them (and half that ahead of everybody else). That second team hasn’t lost a league game in living memory, and is on course to be champions before the crocuses bloom.
As games go, that second one doesn’t sound particularly big, does it? You might watch if you had nothing else on. You wouldn’t expect much. But! What if we told you that the two games described were the same game.
We played ourselves, of course. We turned up and tuned in expecting the first game — Spurs! Liverpool! — and got the second. After the event, Jose Mourinho got it in the neck for Spurs’ approach, which was typical for Mourinho but atypical for Spurs: ew, no, we don’t want the ball. You can have the ball. Go on, take it. Please. Phew.
The Premier League has an elite manager drought
The beauty of England’s FA Cup
TN can’t help but think that some of the criticism against him is a little harsh. Mourinho only got the job because Spurs were looking pretty miserable under the last bloke, and he’s had it less than two months. Harry Kane is crocked, and Christian Eriksen transferred his mind over the summer, though his body has yet to catch up. And hey, they nearly nicked a point. Now, if they’re still playing like dedicated miserabilists in a year’s time — and the odds are good — then TN will be pitchforking it up with the best of them. But not yet.
Also, Liverpool. It is obviously stupid to suggest that a team can win a title too well, but Liverpool’s lead, now at 14 points with a game in hand, is so vast that it is distorting the rest of the competition.
This has two consequences. The first is long term: if Liverpool keeps picking up points at the same rate they are now, they’ll finish close to 30 points ahead of Manchester City. We may get to a point where their lead is so big that it stops being about Liverpool. Win a league by 10 points, and you’re brilliant. Win a league by 30 points, and something weird has happened.
Imagine a child, 50 years from now. To kill a quiet moment in the Third Water War, they’re looking back at old league tables. They get to 2019-20, and see a 30-point gap. Do they think, “Well, they must have been good?” Or do they think, “What the hell was everybody else up to?”
The more immediate effect is that the big games — the tentpoles of the Premier League project, the things that make Sundays super — are having the Bigness drained out of them. Manchester United go to Liverpool next weekend, hoping to make a dent into a 27-point gap. Manchester City host Liverpool on April 4th, and the title race could be over by then. Actually over, that is; not just obviously over, as it is now.