Before the new campaign got underway, many pundits were predicting the most open title race in years. Critics scoffed, but for once the result looks set to match the hype, after the champions became the second member of the ‘big four’ to lose in under a week.
Liverpool’s opening defeat to Tottenham Hotspur certainly whetted the appetite but it could also have been perceived as a mere anomaly in an otherwise predictable process. In order for that result to take on greater significance, another had to follow; that’s where Burnley come in.
It’s certainly not unusual for Championship play-off winners to be written off, but following an opening day defeat to Stoke, the negativity surrounding Burnley’s chances of Premier League survival plunged to new depths. With this in mind, few expected the Clarets to trouble champions Manchester United but trouble them they did, as a fine Robbie Blake strike earned the home side a famous victory.
It’s also a victory that vindicates the football odds of a much tighter league from top to bottom – last season’s top three lost a combined total of three games against the bottom 16 teams, this season the tally already stands at two.
One of the main reasons for this sudden change also happens to be the reason for the gap in the first place – money. The likes of Manchester United and Chelsea no longer have the pick of the worlds best players and when a team like Manchester City or Real Madrid comes calling, they face a struggle to keep hold of their own stars.
It doesn’t matter what anybody inside Old Trafford tries to tell you, United are weaker without Ronaldo and Tevez and against Burnley and to a lesser extent Birmingham, it showed.
All of which makes it so ludicrous that some were writing off Liverpool after their defeat to a rejuvenated Spurs side. Sure enough, last year’s runners up moved quickly to silence the doubters as they cruised to victory against Stoke. Few have written off United, yet the 4-0 win puts Liverpool above the holders on goal difference.
Elsewhere Chelsea picked up a second straight win but question marks remain over their new formation after two less than impressive performances. So that leaves outsiders Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur as the only other potential challengers on maximum points; a recipe for an exciting, dramatic and unpredictable season if ever there was one.