Don’t cheer two-tier English Premier League: Neil Humphreys
Liverpool and Manchester City may widen unwanted gap between the best and the rest in the EPL
Spare a thought for poor Watford. The Hornets are literally on the wrong side of history.
For the first time since 1981, 19 teams in the top flight have three points or more after three games.
In a strange opening to the season, the pointless plodders of Watford are the odd men out.
But this statistical oddity is not a cause for celebration, certainly not in Watford, or anywhere beyond the ivory towers of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Such a wide distribution of points at such an early stage is not a testament to the English Premier League's equality, but it's growing mediocrity.
What were once four tiers in the top flight - the title contenders, the top-four chasers, the relegation battlers and the rest - are now just two.
There are Manchester City and Liverpool.
And then there is everyone else.
Yes, it's only been three games and the chasing pack will inevitably stretch out and may potentially form smaller cliques along the way.
But such a distinct divide between quality and quantity so early is hardly reassuring.
Weekly fixtures are merry-go-rounds of predictable unpredictability, with similar sides taking turns to jump up and fall off again.
How they fall remains a source of intrigue. But the falls are inevitable.
Manchester United rise against Chelsea, but fall against Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace rise against United, but fall at Sheffield United.
Newcastle United rise at Tottenham Hotspur, but fall against Norwich City. Chelsea rise against Norwich, but fall at United, as the merry-go-round trundles on.
Just a point separates United in fifth position and Newcastle in 19th in a homogenised league table.
The first five fixtures on Saturday were away victories. Predicting an EPL result is essentially throwing darts over one's shoulder in the dark.
Only one Saturday fixture followed the form guide, the late game. Liverpool defeated Arsenal. Of course they did.
12 IN A ROW
From last season to this, the Reds have won 12 in a row.
Only the video assistant referee (VAR) denied City maximum points against Spurs, but they are averaging over three goals a game.
Both title contenders chalked up 3-1 wins at the weekend, but the manner of their performance was more impressive than the margin of victory.
Liverpool and City enjoyed such laid-back cruises in the sunshine, they were only missing cocktails with the captain.
Despite Bournemouth's defensive formation against City - and because of Arsenal's reckless tactics against Liverpool - there was rarely a sense of jeopardy. The results were never in doubt. Are they ever?
Running through these formalities on the same weekend that England hosted one of the greatest sporting comebacks in the Third Ashes Test against Australia only magnified the lack of a close, tense competitive narrative in the EPL.
While that merry-go-round of mediocrity continues, Liverpool and City ponder their enviable dilemma.
Do they require second or third gear this weekend?
Perhaps this is not a problem.
It is certainly not a surprising one. The revelation that another season promises a two-horse race is hardly a twist to rival a Quentin Tarantino plot.
But did anyone really see Chelsea losing so easily to United, or United going down at home to Crystal Palace, or Tottenham being so abject against Newcastle, or Arsenal deciding that sensible tactics were unnecessary against the Reds?
Those woeful showings did not indicate a levelling of the playing field, but a shrinking elite, with fallen giants cut adrift and looking a little lost.
United's only proven striker of previous seasons is now scoring for Inter Milan.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino seems to have left his heart in Madrid (and keeps leaving his best centre-back and midfielder on the bench).
Chelsea's youngsters may well improve once puberty really kicks in and Arsenal continue to adopt a kamikaze approach when facing superior opposition.
These entertaining plotlines can sustain an engrossing soap opera, but they can also reinforce the suspicion that the league table's current complexion won't change much.
Considering United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea have already lost as many games as Liverpool did in the whole of last season, major table disruptions are unlikely.
After just three games, the title contenders are already in place, leaving the rest to make up the numbers and play among themselves.
If the opening results are any indication, the idea of a Big Six seems like an archaic, novel idea from the past.
The table suggests a Big Two and 17 indistinguishable also-rans (and poor Watford).
The also-rans will be unpredictable and always fun to watch, but they'll be too busy beating each other to bridge the divide at the top.