Take a look at the Premier League standings heading into the eleventh week of matches, and it looks like more of the same.
Chelsea has plummeted toward the bottom of the tables, certainly, but aside from that not much has changed: Manchester City is in the lead, Arsenal is keeping up, and the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool are attempting to break into the favourites discussion. But a closer eye on English football since last spring clarifies that there are actually slow but steady shifts happening in the biggest football cities. There’s certainly an argument to be made, for example, that Arsenal has demonstrated preparedness to become the superior London squad over Chelsea. But in Manchester, we may also be in the midst of a changing of the guard, as Man Utd. looks to regain a position on top of Man City. This actually became apparent last season, when Manchester United started showing flashes of an elite form under Louis van Gaal, who still feels like something of a newcomer at Old Trafford. Heading into the Manchester Derby in April (at Old Trafford), there were many trends working in favour of United and decidedly against City. This infographic “weather report” of how the respective clubs were doing at the time is telling. The report proved prophetic. United won the fixture 4-2, overcoming an early goal from Sergio Aguero, who also scored in the 89th minute when the contest was already decided. It was United’s sixth straight win at the time, and may have been the deciding defeat in Man City’s slide from the top of the tables, which ultimately allowed Chelsea to take the EPL championship. The match wasn’t of particular significance to either club, except in that it contributed to Man City’s late season collapse. But both teams qualified for Champions League, and neither won the EPL, so in a sense it was fair to call them relatively even at the end of the 2014/15 campaign. The summer that followed, however, saw some clear advantages go United’s way. The big acquisition was young Dutch star Memphis Depay, though Van Gaal’s acquisition of French youngster Anthony Martial has since proven every bit as important. Martial alone tops any changes made by City in the offseason and has helped to reinvigorate the United attack. In Depay and Martial, Van Gaal may just have found his striking duo of the future as Wayne Rooney enters the twilight of his career. The two clubs met again recently in this season’s first Manchester Derby, again at Old Trafford, and the result was a goalless affair. The scoreless draw actually allowed Man City to stay in the lead alongside Arsenal, and it wasn’t the statement outcome that the United supporters were no doubt hoping for. But taking back Manchester will be a gradual process for Van Gaal’s club as they look to supplant the team that’s arguably been the best in the EPL for three seasons now. And it’s growing more difficult to deny that the process has started. In the four weeks preceding the Derby, United was 3-1 to City’s 2-2, a small sample size but a significant one given that United has been looking to establish a consistent rhythm for some time. With the exception of a dreadful 0-3 loss to Arsenal (in London), United’s form has been deadly. They managed three goals in four wins between Weeks 5 and 10, and they’re doing it with a squad that’s still getting used to playing together. The next Derby will be played at the Etihad, but one still gets the feeling that United has a better chance to improve given that City is working with the same core it has had for a few seasons now. It’s unlikely that there will be any dramatic sign that United has regained supremacy in Manchester. Unless Van Gaal’s team can put together a resounding win at the Etihad later this season, the only clear divide between the two sides will be in the standings. But given the latest trends, don’t be surprised if the Red Devils reign in Manchester again by the end of the season.