The race for fourth is real
Perhaps this is the only logical conclusion after North London has defied all conventional wisdom and rationality in recent months. Arsenal beating Manchester City, Spurs putting five past a José Mourinho team, Wenger finally nailing the timing on that run of good form... the least logical place for it to end was not at Stoke, or West Ham, but Spurs, the only bigger bottlers in England, and so it proved in Saturday's defeat for Arsenal at White Hart Lane.
The match will, of course, be remembered for Harry Kane coming of age and truly confirming himself as a "proper" striker. The time when pundits and fans got that same glint in the eye as your dad's best mate when he saw your mum, and envisioned him in a United, City or England strip. He looks and plays like a compressed Peter Crouch, but somehow it works, and between him and Eriksen, Spurs have lucked out enough that the post-Bale spree didn't turn out to be the era-squandering disaster it probably ought to have been.
The title race might be done, but we've got a genuinely interesting contest for fourth emerging, and it's impossible to tell which way it's going to go. There's Spurs, entirely reliant on two players; Arsenal, entirely reliant on one player; Manchester United, who are entirely reliant on their fucking goalkeeper; Liverpool, entirely reliant on one system, and Southampton, who just have a pretty good side full of solid players. The old reliable perennial capitulations and recoveries don't look like they're coming around this year, and thank fuck for that.
Louis van Gaal really has nothing at all
It seems so long ago when we believed that Louis van Gaal would be the force to turn Manchester United back into a serious contender for trophies both domestic and continental. After the clumsy, insipid draw with West Ham yesterday, we realise now that we based this belief on:
1. Robin van Persie scoring a pretty good header.
2. Subbing on Tim Krul for pennos.
While Van Gaal has certainly got the best out of De Gea by constructing a defence that allows him to get involved as much as possible, the idea that he would single-handedly rejuvenate RVP has been misplaced – which is a shame for United, because he's already proven that he's the kind of player who can win titles single-handedly. Instead, Van Gaal is getting the best out of only De Gea and Daley Blind: the latter a handsome and likeable man, but ultimately a utility clogger. John O'Shea doesn't win you trophies, no matter what his nationality is.
When the "Hey, we're doing exactly the same as we did under Moyes, having spent £150m more!" realisation set in a few weeks ago, it seemed slightly fanciful to say that Van Gaal was no better. Now: not so – who knows, perhaps Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce would get more out of this team? Tim Sherwood could probably have a reasonable crack at it. Van Gaal's "philosophy" has turned out to be a teenage MRA banging on about Ayn Rand – it's shit, it's pathetically self-serving and nobody cares any more.
Steve Bruce is a cursed man
You kind of have to feel for Steve Bruce this season. He took over a basket case of a club, formed them into a solid outfit, took them up, then kept them up. But like Icarus if he looked like a Novocastrian grandmother, he flew too close to the sun. Hatem Ben Arfa, Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez failed to add the requisite elan and instead fucked the whole thing sideways, and now they'll be lucky to stay up.
They've not been awful either – a lot of their results have come in the manner of Saturday's 1-1 draw with the champions, just failing to score points off the big teams and then having a horrorshow against the smaller ones. Not that the result pleased anybody; it was horrid for City, who looked less like title challengers and more like a big pragmatic obstacle in the way of Steve Bruce's career plans.
Man, he could've been someone.
Atletico are showing their English equivalents how it's done
For such an elite and storied team, it's odd that Real Madrid have such a well-fed habit of getting randomly pumped. There was the 5-0 against Barcelona, and there was the time they lost 4-0 to a third-division side under Pellegrini. Whether the perception is accurate or not, it definitely feels like we've been here before.
Nonetheless, Atletico's ability to keep ploughing on is commendable. It was unthinkable that anyone would break the duopoly in Spain when they did, and now they're continuing it. There are lessons to be learned here, and they are as follows: number one, Manchester Untied, appoint the guy who's just achieved a miracle, not some old journeyman, like you did the last time. Number two: Liverpool: if you lose a couple of proven, experienced players in the summer, replace them with a couple of proven, experienced players and not Divock Origi. Hindsight is 20/20, but that was fucking stupid.
Money can't buy you happiness
There have now been five serious experiments with a rich owner taking on a club in a context where they could've seriously hit the big time. Chelsea are the most resounding success, but in that time they've become a byword for sterile domination and ground-out home 2-0s. Manchester City haven't signed a world-class player in years, Monaco imploded thanks to the owner's troubles (along with Cavani, it's very fitting that the French league has been made competitive by divorce), nobody even got to see Anzhi Makhachkala, and then there's PSG, the dullest of them all.
It didn't have to be like this. In fact, it shouldn't be like this. Blowing £50m on David Luiz because "fuck it" is exactly the sort of move we expected the likes of Man City to be pulling, but it hasn't helped their Parisian cousins be any more exciting. Maybe there's just something inherently boring in the mentality of men with shitloads of money and it can never work – we wanted Michael Carroll or Gordon Gecko, we got Bill Gates and Philip Green. Suck up the tedium.