Monday 10 November ~
After another weekend of surprise results the Premier League table looks very different place to a week or two ago. Two wins for Bolton have taken them from the relegation zone to 11th; Fulham now sit in the top half after having kicked off on Sunday third from bottom; while Sunderland find themselves 19th, having been in the top half ten days ago. As things stand six points separate Middlesbrough in eighth and West Brom at the bottom of the table. To give this some perspective, on this day last season that difference was 13 points, and this was before Derby had been cut adrift. Is the Premier League the closest it has been in years?
As any spin-doctor will tell you, statistics can be read in a variety of ways. While it may be tighter at the bottom of the table than it has ever been, in the long run this promises little more than a tense fight for a UEFA Cup place and a decreased chance of having another Derby on our hands. It gives no hint that for the foreseeable the title race will be anything but a predictable story with the same recurring characters. For, while the bottom three quarters of the table has converged on itself, the top four remain depressingly clear out in front.
Perhaps the most telling result of the weekend is the 2-1 defeat of Aston Villa at home to Middlesbrough. However unlikely it may have seemed, Villa were probably the only team given a shout by the critics of challenging the big four during the opening weeks of the season. But, with Manchester United and Arsenal faltering, they have now contrived to lose two pretty easy games in a row. If the tight grouping of the bottom three-quarters of the Premier League shows anything it is that the likes of Villa, and more to the point Manchester City and Tottenham, are failing to turn investment and potential into a genuine challenge to the big boys.
A few years ago the biggest gulf was between those with the Premier League cash and those teams who could gain promotion from the Championship but never compete at the top level. While there is evidence to suggest that there is no longer such a gulf (the performance of Sunderland last season, Stoke and Hull this) the chasm caused by the Champions League cash is becoming ever wider. Josh Widdicombe