With ten match weekends remaining in the 2017-18 English Premier League season, there are few matters left to settle. Who is winning the title? Manchester City. Who are getting the coveted Champions League qualifications? Not Arsenal.
Is the non-climactic season climax a problem? In a sense, it is. One would like to see, in a long-term, round-robin tournament, some especially meaningful games towards the end of the season.
But I want to caution the Premier League fan against throwing their hands up and declaring it a lost season. Very much the contrary: 2017-18 has been a revelation, a key turning point for the competition, and the results of this shift have begun to show up in Europe, where English teams have been coming up notoriously and inexplicably short for the past half-dozen years.
Anyone familiar with Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola’s previous ventures in (highly financially backed) football managing was not too surprised when the famed Spaniard’s Manchester City almost immediately made their intentions of league domination clear. But, despite Guardiola’s credentials, his first season in Manchester left doubt in the minds of many. City finished third in the 2016-17 iteration of the league and earned no tournament wins, a first for Pep’s entire managing career.
Pep had little doubt, though, and neither did the Manchester City board, which doubled down emphatically on the Guardiola experiment with a net transfer spend of over $300 million this past summer. The squad’s new fullbacks alone cost over $185 million. The new arrivals had the desired effect—goalkeeper Ederson and right back Kyle Walker have been fixtures in the first 11.
It would be easy to look just at Manchester City and forget the rest with how the title-race has gone, but “the rest” have been no slouches either.
Manchester United, managed by the wily mastermind Jose Mourinho, have finally re-established a stable superiority. With superstars all across their frontline and a similarly star-studded midfield balanced with the key addition of Nemanja Matic, United have firmly broken away from their post-Alex-Ferguson malaise and look a good bet to reassert themselves amongst the European elite.
Liverpool also has a lackluster recent past that they were desperate to put in the rearview. Though by no means a return to the domineering ways of the legendary ‘Pool sides, this year’s iteration has put on quite a display. Like United, the frontline is absolutely world-class. Liverpool are apt to score three goals every time they step on the pitch. Now a potent threat to any team in the world, they announced their European intentions with a convincing 5-0 drubbing away at Porto.
Tottenham, which boasts league’s national team darlings in Harry Kane and Dele Alli, have remained thoroughly competitive amongst the free-spending elite at the top of the table. Though not in a title race as they were last season, they have nonetheless progressed, as evidenced by two away goals at the normally impenetrable Italian giants Juventus in the first leg of the Champions League knockout round.
Chelsea, last year’s surprise league winner, has struggled to match their feat from a season ago. Their form has slipped precipitously in the last few months, with manager Antonio Conte naturally taking the brunt of the blame. Nonetheless, I would argue that the team has held its own very well this season. Amidst a busier schedule and the considerable rearming of City, United, and Liverpool, the team has, somehow, steadfastly remained in the Champions League conversation.
All four challengers certainly have room for improvement. Manchester United would do well to renew the quality in their center-back corps. Liverpool might consider considering defending at all. Tottenham and Chelsea need higher first-team investment if they want to better represent London against their Manchester counterparts.
Yet all four teams are currently serious, legitimate contenders on the European stage. Manchester City’s improvement to league dominance belies the corresponding improvement in the level of England’s top clubs.