It’s halfway through the Premier League season and only the bravest or most biased observer can call a winner at this stage.
Have you ever seen the title race this tight?
At the halfway point, it seems that any team in the top six can claim the trophy at the end of the season.
It’s a strange time obviously. Everything has been distorted by the pandemic –especially with the compressed nature of the season.
With games coming thick and fast – almost non-stop for fans – teams are playing a game every three days on average.
While in a normal season, form, quality and squad depth would usually decide who reigns supreme, it’s about who can manage the health and fitness of their squad the best that is skewing results.
Injuries are rife with recovery times down to a minimum and Covid-19 could be lurking and ready to pounce on a trip to the garage to pump some petrol or at the grocery store.
It seems that at almost any given moment, a star man could get coronavirus and that means five teammates have to go into isolation.
So who is brave enough to call it?
I guess the best way at looking for a winner is to look at teams who have their most influential players spread out.
Once fitness and health are so unpredictable, depth and form are still going to be the biggest factors.
Now let’s do a little experiment. Let’s find the form players of each club fighting for the title and take them out for the rest of the season and make a call on how their team will do without them.
The most productive player in the league so far is Harry Kane.
The Tottenham star boasts 21 goal involvements from Spurs’ 33.
That is a third of their goals and if he were to continue at that rate, we can expect Spurs to lose a whole lot of firepower.
In fact, the man with the next best goal contribution in the league is Kane’s partner, Heung-Min Son with 18.
Playing off each other the way they do, Son would have to strike up another warm partnership, so Kane’s absence or drop in form would really hurt Spurs.
The next man to look out for is Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes with 18.
Since his arrival at Old Trafford just over a year ago has made United a serious force again.
And if anything should happen to make his form drop for an extended period would be detrimental to United.
Before the Portuguese ace showed up Marcus Rashford was doing a lot of the leg work and much of the responsibility would fall back on his shoulders thanks to his 13 goal contributions.
Mo Salah is the league’s top goalscorer with 13 for Liverpool before the Burnley game on Thursday night.
Obviously his loss of form has hurt the champions – he hasn’t scored for them in the league in four games ahead of Burnley and no Red has scored in the last three.
Liverpool are the most clear example of how quickly things can go wrong when players go off the boil.
The team with the next most potentially fragile form is Leicester, due to their reliance on Jamie Vardy.
Vardy’s 14 goal contributions is almost half of the Foxes total and Kelechi Iheanacho is just not going to replace the league’s ultimate bang-bang striker.
So there you have it: the league’s MVPs. There teams can just not afford to be without them.
Outliers in this whole experiment are Manchester City.
And with them as league leaders with a game in hand, having quietly made their way up the table, City’s form looks ominous.
The single most productive player, in terms of goal contributions, is Raheem Sterling with eight.
With City’s total being 38 at the moment, that’s less than a quarter.
According to our experiment, it means that City have the best depth and spread of influence in their squad.
With just 13 goals conceded after 18 games played, City also look the most solid and have done well to make sure they don’t miss Aymeric Laporte, whose absence cost them big time last season.
So while this season still has many pitfalls ahead, it seems Pep Guardiola and City look like the squad with the best ratio of quality to cover to outlast the setbacks and their opponents.
Anyway, the last thing this is is a prediction.
It’s not unheard of that teams can make up 10 points from here to win the league and anyone can step up to take the season by storm.
Just remember, Chelsea were top of the log at the start of December and Aston Villa, Southampton and Everton were all there already this term.