LONDON, (Reuters) – Eight rounds into a Premier League season is usually a sufficient period for the big guns to start gathering near the top of the table and for the surprise early pace-setters to be on their inevitable slide.
Now and again a club from outside the accepted top-six will defy gravity for longer and once in a blue moon miracles happen, as Leicester City proved by winning the title in 2015-16 as 5000-1 outsiders.
A glance at the standings after the weekend’s games raises the prospect that this season might be a bit different.
Southampton, beaten 9-0 by Leicester a year ago, began the weekend perched on top for the first time in 32 years after winning on Friday, Tottenham Hotspur beat West Bromwich Albion to take over for a few hours on Sunday before Leicester moved to the summit with 18 points from eight games by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers.
With Aston Villa’s 3-0 drubbing of Arsenal hoisting them to sixth, three points behind Leicester with a game in hand, Everton in seventh, Crystal Palace in eighth and Wolves in ninth, it resembles a table from the 70s or 80s, long before the evolution of a Premier League big four and then big six.
Manchester City are 10th, albeit from only seven games, while Arsenal and Manchester United languish in the bottom half.
BBC pundit and former England striker Alan Shearer says he still expects champions Liverpool and Manchester City to battle each other for the title again and the bookmakers agree.
But the quality so far displayed by Leicester, Southampton, Villa and early on Everton suggests a shake-up in the top half is not beyond the realm of possibility.
According to statistics provided by Nielsen’s Gracenote, Leicester’s start is the best by a team from outside the big six since Leeds United also took 18 points from eight games 19 years ago, eventually finishing fifth.
What is more, Leicester are three points better off after eight games than they were in 2015 and are enjoying their best start to a top-flight campaign since 1930.
While Leicester’s form is perhaps less surprising, given they were impressive last season before a late fade, Southampton’s is more so considering their squad is more or less the same as last season’s when they struggled.
They have 16 points, meaning it is the first time in 14 years that two teams from outside the big six have averaged at least two points per match in their first eight games.
The last time that happened was in 2006 when Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouth eventually finished in seventh and ninth places respectively.
Should Villa get a point in their next game against Brighton, it would mean three teams outside the big six have taken 16 or more points from their opening eight games — something that has happened in only two Premier League seasons since 1995.
While the appearance of the table is refreshing, it is far too early to start talking about the prospects of another Leicester-like fairytale.
Of the 21 teams from outside the big six to have taken 16 or more points from their first eight games, only five finished in the top four, with Newcastle United blowing a golden chance to win the title in 1995-96, finishing second to Manchester United.
And a cautionary take is that of Hull City who took 17 points from their first eight games but two from their last eight, surviving on the last day of the 2008-09 season.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar