Premier League clubs have only played 12 games each by mid-November, but will be tested harshly as it now accelerates to 20 by New Year.
The latest international break needs to have focused all Premier League sides for the remainder of the campaign, but especially for the slalom through the intense Christmas and New Year programme.
Clubs will now pile through 8 league games inside 5 weeks, with some facing European and Carabao Cup action too. There are too many league points at stake to get this period wrong.
It’s the classic issue I always talk about at this stage of the season: sides in the top 6 have a great season on their hands and they need to harness it, while those in the bottom 6 are in a relegation battle already and had better respond to it, fast.
There is nothing gained by struggling clubs kidding themselves that they’ll be fine and that other teams will go down. Safety is never about being too good to go down. There needs to be three teams worse than you.
The bottom 6 is always fascinating. Many expected before the break that the bottom three of Cardiff, Huddersfield and Fulham would end that way come May, but Fulham now have Claudio Ranieri in charge.
New managers change the balance. If Ranieri keeps Fulham up, do the rest just drop down a place? Cardiff look to have a Championship squad, but they are battlers and have won 2 matches. It’s Southampton, Huddersfield and Fulham that have only won once, while Palace can’t win without Zaha. Cardiff could stay up.
Will the other battlers sack their coach? Mark Hughes carries the air pitch-side of a man who’s just missed his bus again, but for how long can he pass off yet more Southampton defeats? Referees and random factors can’t be at fault every week.
At the top, few could have envisaged three sides still being unbeaten 12 games in. I didn’t expect Chelsea to have avoided defeat by now, but I did wonder if City and Liverpool might.
I felt in August that if City could avoid losing at Anfield then the next biggest risk for both would be when they face each other again, at the Etihad on January 3. If they remain unbeaten through that contest too, either or even both could see out the campaign without a loss.
City have already avoided defeat in the only two league games they lost last season – Liverpool away and Utd at home – so why should they lose any other game?
City are a little less flamboyant than last season but are tighter defensively for it. Not only might City retain their title, but we’ll know by January 4 if the path is truly clear for them to do so unbeaten.