For the last, oh, let's say six years of the previous decade, the big four in England's Premier League were unquestionably heads and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool were the fab four.
Although it was United and Chelsea winning most of the hardware over that period, Arsenal and Liverpool were always close by; looking over their shoulder, pushing them on.
For all but one of the members of that exclusive club, this has continued into the start of this new decade. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal continue to rule English football, and currently sit in that order atop the table.
The fourth member, however, has officially been replaced. Liverpool, currently sitting in the middle of the table, looks nowhere near to be a club that could find it's way back into the top four, and this is despite their recent good form.
Manchester City, a nose away last season from beating Tottenham out for the fourth spot, looks to have finally slid comfortably into that vacant chair.
Clubs like Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton and perhaps even Newcastle, will still argue that they have a legitimate shot to end up in the top four. But for anyone who has watched the first almost third of the season unfold, they would admit the likelihood of anyone who is not sitting in the top four right now ending up there would be highly unlikely.
This is not to sell Liverpool's sudden return to winning ways—including beating Chelsea soundly last weekend—short. Roy Hodgson finally has his club playing good football, and they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with the remainder of the season.
But, there are two undeniable facts when looking at Liverpool's unlikely chances to climb the table.
One, they started out squandering too many points and spotted the top four too much of a head start.
And two, they are just not as talented as the other four clubs. Granted, talent doesn't always equal a great team. For a good example of this just look at Manchester City the last two seasons. Hugely expensive, talented players, but nothing to show for it. Sometimes a team of good players can be better than a team of great players, if the balance is found.
However, it just doesn't seem like City is the same team this year. Manager Roberto Mancini has his team playing with a new level of confidence. They are starting to look like a balanced team for the first time in years.
Mancini and City battle United in the Manchester derby on Wednesday. The Italian manager, responding to a lack of respect he felt coming from Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, said recently, "We have respect for United and we want them to have it for us always. The number of trophies isn't important. Respect is more important."
Should City beat United Wednesday night, that respect just might be there from Ferguson. United has won the last four derbys between the rivals.
Even if City, or one of the other top three clubs (most likely Arsenal) were to stumble, which is certainly possible, the vacant top-four spot would not just be handed to Liverpool by default. Tottenham and Everton, specifically, would have as much claim to the spot as Liverpool.
Everton, much like Liverpool, got out of the starting gate horribly (as they did last season as well), but have found their game and are playing very well. David Moyes' club is not going away, The same can be said for last season's fourth place finisher, Spurs. Harry Redknapp's team is deep and experienced, and is likely to be in position to try and steal the fourth spot at the end of the season.
However, Tottenham must avoid a letdown like they had over the weekend in dropping points to Bolton, just days after beating Inter Milan in the Champions League.
Much of the Premier League race may be decided by who does what come the January transfer window. No doubt Everton and Tottenham, as well as Manchester City and Arsenal, will try to bolster their clubs for the second half push. Liverpool will have to do the same, or their slim chances will fade even more.
Liverpool has openly talked about selling their failed summer signing Christian Poulsen in the transfer window, but Hodgson wants to make sure they would replace him with someone with of great potential.
Poulsen was signed to replace Javier Mascherano after he switched to Barcelona in the summer. The Danish star Poulsen has been a huge disappointment.
Whatever moves Liverpool ends up making, they will have to be substantial if they have any hope of getting pack to that exclusive "Big Four" club.
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