We can all surely agree that the early weeks of this season have already produced some absolutely vintage Barclays.
But which have been the plot twists we didn’t necessarily see coming that have proved the most entertaining? Well it’s these five, so you can all stop wondering.
Thomas Tuchel turning full cartoon supervillain
Definitely our favourite one. It’s not so much that Tuchel has emerged as one of the season’s key villains after quite brilliantly managing to look like the unhinged one in a huff-off with a full-steam Antonio Conte and then building on that with general weirdness during and after the Leeds capitulation, it’s that he’s managed to do this from, in terms of his time as a Premier League manager (i.e. the only part of his career that matters) basically a standing start.
European-football-studying nerds may now be stroking their beards and going “Of course, he’s always had this volatility about him as a manager” but for the rest of us it’s all a bit jarring.
Especially when you consider the position of genuine villainy Chelsea were in last season and the generally calm and thoughtful manner in which Tuchel dealt with questions on the subject that, while valid, would really have been better directed at people in actual positions of power rather than football managers.
To deal with that as he did and then completely lose your mind over some Conte histrionics is cracking character development.
Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring Premier League goals
It’s been one of the most reliable things in this topsy-turvy world for years now. There are three characteristics one could always associate with great certainty to Mitrovic. One, he is a chaotic loose cannon, yet also eminently predictable. Viz: two, he scores all the goals in the Championship. Three, he scores none of the goals in the Premier League.
Scoring twice against Liverpool and a last-minute winner after Fulham had thrown away a two-goal lead against Brentford certainly fits Mitrovic chaos theory but is wildly off-brand for a man with the most spectacularly two-tone career in recent history: 85 goals in 126 Championship games but just 24 in 104 Premier League games before this season.
Manchester United and Liverpool playing a relegation six-pointer
There are two competitors for the dullest yet most correct football opinion people like to share: one, that long-range thunderbastards are over-rated and over-represented in consideration of great goals; and two, that there isn’t really much point to the league table in the first month of the season.
Yes, obviously. Everyone knows that thunderbastards have an element of luck and obviously a league table after a couple of games doesn’t even really provide a meaningful form guide. But here’s the thing: thunderbastards are fun. Early league tables are fun.
Early league tables are when you get fun little teams like Tottenham or Arsenal at the top of the table. And they are also when you get great big teams floundering near the bottom.
Now there was always half a chance Manchester United might not start the season at full tilt as their latest rebuild begins under Erik ten Hag – a manager who doesn’t even know Our League, for goodness’ sake. But nobody could realistically have expected their early-season storyline to include “4-0 down to Brentford at half-time“.
And while a bit of slipping back into the pack for Liverpool would have been no great shock, winning neither of their first two games against Fulham and Crystal Palace would again have figured in relatively few pre-season predictions.
Yet there we were, witnessing the sight of Liverpool and Manchester United meeting for a Premier League game with both teams in relegation form. For two whole games, which is plenty to base anything on.
And best of all, we got the funniest possible outcome from the Cracked Badge Derby, with the team in most overt full-blown crisis, Manchester United, managing to take all three points to leave nobody quite sure which team is now the official holder of the banter club mantle. Let’s split the difference and say it’s Chelsea.
The total collapse of recent Big Six botherers
In the last three seasons there have been three plucky little teams able to achieve the near impossible and break up the Big Six in the final Premier League table.
Leicester and Wolves managed it in the now of course asterisked-out-of-official-canon 2019/20 season.
Leicester and West Ham both actually finished in the top six in 2021, forcing Spurs and Arsenal – the smallest Big Sixers – into seventh and eighth.
And even last year when the Big Six regained control the Hammers finished seventh and remained in top six contention until the final day, with Leicester eighth and Wolves eventually slipping to 10th having been very much in contention for further Big Six bothering until the final month of the season.
Now it’s no great shock to see all of those teams slip back a bit, but to find them comprising the actual bottom three with just two points between them is a stark warning to other teams – your Newcastles, your Brightons – who appear to have dangerous ideas of their own about not knowing their place.
Arsenal Invincibles: The Next Generation
Of course it would be quite silly to extrapolate an entire season from games against Crystal Palace, this particularly honking Leicester side and newly-promoted Bournemouth. Only a fool would attempt to do so.
That being said, it is absolutely clear that nobody is going to get the better of Mikel Arteta’s tricky Gunners over the 35 remaining games and another invincible season is a near certainty. The big twist with this particular band of Gunner Invincibles is that they will still finish second to Manchester City.