The start of a new season offers all the promise of a blank slate. Onto this yet untouched slab, our imaginations can run wild carving any conceivable array of results and events, thrillingly unconstrained by anything other than our own whims and predictions. However, though we are just three matches into a new, tantalizingly unpredictable Premier League season, it already feels like Liverpool and Manchester City have reserved the top two spots of that slate exclusively for themselves.
This shouldn’t be any real surprise. City and Liverpool are both coming off two of the most dominant seasons in English soccer history, and because neither team suffered any appreciable loss in the summer transfer window, the pair remained favorites to repeat their two-team race for the title. Still, it is startling just how quickly they’ve reestablished themselves as far and away the class of the league.
After just three matchdays, Liverpool and City are already where they will by all rights stay for the duration of the 2019-20 campaign: in spots 1 and 2 on the table. Liverpool are the league’s only perfect team, with nine points from three matches. City are one spot back on seven points. Both have allowed three goals, bettered only by the four teams that have conceded only twice. City have scored a league-leading 10 times themselves, with Liverpool coming in second with nine. The next highest scorers, Manchester United and Norwich, have six goals apiece—a goal-per-game rate an entire goal lower than the City’s and Liverpool’s.
The performances on the pitch bear out this supremacy, too. On Saturday, Liverpool hosted Arsenal in one of the young season’s first contests between members of the EPL’s famed Big Six. Arsenal are in the second year of manager Unai Emery’s tenure, and have invested heavily and wisely over the summer to build a team worthy of a spot in the Champions League places. Arsenal played fairly well, all things considered, and the speed of their fantastic forward line regularly gave Liverpool’s defense legitimate scares. Nevertheless, the Reds’ comprehensive 3–1 victory never seriously looked in doubt, as it was clear one side was simply a cut above.
Manchester City’s weekend exploits were similarly assured. With the same idle domination that was the hallmark of many of their comfortable victories a season ago, City brushed aside Bournemouth on Sunday, 3–1, without so much as breaking a sweat. Even City’s one negative result so far this season was more than anything proof of the astounding gap between themselves and their ostensible non-Liverpool peers.
That lone blemish came the weekend before last, when City hosted Tottenham in match whose scoreline—a 2–2 draw—was far from an accurate summation of the play on the field. If City were only a tad more fortunate with their finishing, and Spurs a smidge less lucky on their goals and the bullshit VAR call that disallowed City’s would-be late winner, the story of that match would’ve been how impossibly good City already look this season. City ran riot over the presumptive third-best team in England, taking 30 shots and allowing just three on the other end, demonstrating that with new signing Rodri in midfield and the return of a fully healthy Kevin De Bruyne, the Citizens will probably be even better than they were last year.
For as outstanding as City and Liverpool yet again are, its the status of their top-of-the-league competitors that makes it so blindingly evident that the Big Two are the only real contenders for the crown. There simply is no other team capable of running with them.
As mentioned above, the presumed third- and fourth-best teams, both of which greatly improved this summer, have already faced and been summarily outplayed by one of the Big Two. Manchester United’s encouraging start to the season might have tricked some Red Devils fans into believing this might be the year of the long-prophesied return to greatness, but everyone has since realized that a 4–0 season-opening win over this aggressively mediocre Chelsea bunch (sorry, Christian) doesn’t count for much.
United wasted no time fully deflating fans’ hopes of an overachieving season by following up the Chelsea win with a draw at Wolves and an embarrassing home loss to Crystal Palace. It’s now much more likely that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær doesn’t last long enough in the job to pin a poppy to his jacket when Remembrance Day rolls around than it is that he’ll lift the championship trophy at the end of the season.
And so for another season, the Premier League consists of Liverpool, Manchester City, and then everyone else. That’s not a bad thing. There’s still plenty of intrigue below the top two. The fight for the top four should be even tighter this year than last, with four teams duking it out for two spots until the very end. The league’s upper-midtable continues getting stronger, and the likes of Leicester City, Everton, Wolves, and West Ham should all be dreaming of finishing higher than one or two of the Big Six. Even the relegation battle is wide open.
Three weeks into the season, the only thing that feels certain about the Premier League this year is that one of either Manchester City or Liverpool will win it. If that means we’re in for another historically tight and tense title race where anything short of perfection isn’t good enough—to say nothing of the Champions League trophy these same two teams should be considered favorites for—then it will be a hell of a lot of fun witnessing which one finishes first.