With the season a third of the way through, the table is starting to take shape, and a top four has begun to separate from the pack. Without European commitments to worry about Chelsea and Liverpool are leading the way, a point apart and with the two best goal differentials in the league.
Manchester City are in third, only behind the Reds thanks to GD, while Arsenal in turn are two points back of them. After that, there’s a clear break to Tottenham Hotspur in fifth—not just four points back of Arsenal, but also six worse off in goal differential. It’s not an insurmountable gap, but it is significant.
“Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and us,” is how Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius told Kicker he sees it when he turns to the table in the morning. “That quartet is standing eye-to-eye. Many thought City with Pep Guardiola would be favourites, but Chelsea went on a brutal run recently.”
And while Spurs fans won’t like to hear it, Karius is probably right that those really are the four teams in the running for the title. Right now, Chelsea are on pace for 90 to 91 points. Liverpool and City are on pace for 87 to 88. As such, it seems a safe bet at least one of the three will reach 87-91 in the final table.
And for Tottenham to reach 87 points, they would need 2.52 points per game the rest of the way—considerably better than what Chelsea, currently hitting 2.38, have managed so far. Put another way, Spurs need at least 63 points to challenge. That’s 20 wins, three draws, and two losses the rest of the way.
As of December 1st, Tottenham are realistically out of the title race. Manchester United, four points behind them and a further six goals back on goal differential, are even worse off. The same math that says Spurs are no longer competitive for the title says United are all but out of the top four race.
The only advantage United have is they only have two clubs ahead of them they need to stumble—Spurs and one of the current top four—to have an unlikely shot at Champions League qualification whereas Tottenham are looking up at four other sides in an increasingly well defined top four.
Still, being solidly in the top four doesn’t mean Liverpool are assured of a title challenge or prevent them from being that side that stumbles and gives Tottenham or United hope of Champions League qualification. But it’s certainly better being on the inside after a third of the season than the alternative.
“It’s a dream that’s still far away,” noted Karius. “We’ve not made the league our goal because if you do and finish second the season is a disappointment. Our goal is to play in the Champions League next term.”