In England there has always been a top set of teams fighting for the league title. The top two became the top four and that top four became the top six.
Now, teams such as Leicester are hoping to break into the top six and it is feasible that before long there will be a top eight, writes Ciaran Vance.
In the pre-Roman Abramovich, post-Sky era, league titles were mostly contested between Manchester United and Arsenal. Jose Mourinho and Chelsea then came along and fought and sneered for a seat at that table. Liverpool were ever-present. The top four was set.
Over the years since, thanks to the money injected into Manchester City and the work of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, four became six and these teams finish in a variety of positions from first to sixth.
Even within these six teams, there is still an elite level that the rest strive for. Right now, Manchester City and Liverpool are so far ahead of the rest that there is no mention of another team vying for the title.
Rio Ferdinand posted a video to Twitter where he argued with fans asking if Ole Gunnar Solskjær should be sacked following United’s 2-0 defeat to West Ham last week. Ferdinand was extremely vocal in his support of Solskjær becoming permanent manager. Any reservations about Solskjær’s ability as a manger were crushed by the feeling that, finally, United were playing a style of football the fans were used to.
Inevitably the wheels came off. Despite making two much-needed signings in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, United still have gaps all over their team.
United bounced back from the defeat to West Ham by needing 120 minutes and penalties to defeat a Rochdale side that sit in the bottom half of League 1.
Failing to sign a replacement for Romelu Lukaku would have been fine if the two players in the squad earmarked to play in his position, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, were producing anywhere near the same amount of goals as the Belgian.
The fact is that neither has had a full, uninterrupted season as a number nine and expecting either to step up instantly is either extremely wishful thinking or pure naivety.
Tottenham have Kane, Arsenal have Aubameyang – who scored with his only shot on target last night, City have Aguero and the rest, while Liverpool have a front three who scored 69 goals in the league last year. In the same season, United – with Lukaku – scored 65.
The fact is Manchester United are no longer a top team in England and therefore cannot expect to win every game or challenge for the title, yet fans still believe they should and are outraged when they don’t.
The match between United and Arsenal Monday night was so void of quality it proved both sets of fans should count their blessings if they manage to muster a top four finish.
Solskjær needs time and the fans and board must give him it. Jürgen Klopp was appointed as Liverpool manager in 2015 and did not win a trophy until 2019.
United cannot expect to win every game simply because of who they are, and the sooner everyone involved realises that, the sooner they can make sustainable plans for the future.
Follow Ciaran on Twitter at @ciaranmvance