Four has become one. At just the halfway stage of the Premier League, the title race appears to be over.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have all but bid farewell to their title aspirations, a 4-1 shellacking of the latter on Saturday afternoon seing Manchester City set a new English top-flight record of 16 consecutive victories and opening up a seemingly unassailable 11-point gap at the top.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, Pep's rampant outfit will run away with the league title.
And so now four from six has become three from five. The 2017-18 season began with the ‘Big Six’ set to duke it out for the four coveted UEFA Champions League spots, but one has now most certainly been taken.
6 - Since Mauricio Pochettino’s first season as Tottenham boss in 2014-15, Spurs have spent six days top of the Premier League during a season, compared to Manchester City’s total of 267 days over this period. Difference. — OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 16, 2017
The pressure, then, has shifted to the chasing pack. Specifically, to Spurs after a weekend that also brought victories for Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side came into the season as the best team in the Premier League over the previous two campaigns, amassing a league-high points total of 156 – 10 more than the next best team (Arsenal) during that period. They had also scored the most goals (155) and conceded the fewest (61) in that time.
Progress appears to have been made in the Champions League, too, with two victories over Dortmund and four points from six against reigning European champions Real Madrid.
Winning their group has reinforced Spurs’ new-found status among the game’s elite, but closer to home the pressure is now well and truly on to ensure they retain their seat at the continent’s top table next season.
There is certinaly no shame in losing to City, a side that is already being muted as the best the PL has seen. But Saturday’s defeat provided more immediate concern: Spurs are now on the outside looking in.
Down in seventh after 18 games, they can ill afford to fall much further behind.
Financially, failing to make the top four is no longer as costly as it once was given the PL’s unparalleled new television deal, but failing to return to the modern game’s elite competition could prove problematic for a club that is still paying its brightest and best significantly less than they would earn at rival clubs both home and abroad.
"For me, you can take some positives from the unbelievable experience for the team," Pochettino said of Saturday’s defeat. "To realise that to play for the Premier League we need to improve, we need to learn, to work harder than before and of course we play again today a team that has a lot of quality."
They will have to improve next week, in what will be a battle for the top six with surprise package Burnley, now in sixth place.
Since taking over at White Hart Lane in August 2014, Pochettino has enjoyed one just victory in his 18 Premier League games away to the ‘Big Six’ (W1 D6 L11) – Burnley may not be a signed up member of that group, but they deservedly occupy that space at the halfway stage of a hitherto thrilling PL season.
And then Spurs will have to look to Liverpool and Arsenal, the only two of the Big Six that were not realistically spoken about as title contenders ahead of this season.
With just two wins from their last seven PL outings, Spurs can ill afford to lose much more ground over a packed festive period.