Premier League's 'big six' dominance is demoralising for small clubs and their fans

Unpredictability was always trumpeted as the Premier League's unique selling point. The ability of the bottom club to beat the leaders, and the sense that every game carried the risk of defeat or embarrassment even for the biggest teams, was viewed as a reason to tune in every weekend.

The prospect of seeing Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United lose against Bolton Wanderers, Liverpool dropping points at home to Blackpool or Manchester City failing to beat the likes of Burnley is one of the reasons why the Premier League became the richest league in world football.

But the unpredictability that took the Premier League above and beyond Spain's La Liga, the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A in terms of entertainment and global popularity has gone.

Nobody expected City to drop points against Southampton at the Etihad on Sunday, or were the least bit surprised that Pep Guardiola's team ended up scoring six. Chelsea were made to fight for their 3-1 victory against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, but they still won in the end and even United, the only one of the "Big Six" to offer any kind of hope to an opponent in the bottom half this season, navigated a tough trip to Bournemouth on Saturday by winning with a stoppage time strike from Marcus Rashford.

While the Spanish and German leagues are enjoying a rare taste of unpredictability due to the travails of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich -- both clubs can be described as being "in crisis," with Real languishing in sixth position and Bayern forced to occupy the unfamiliar surroundings of third -- the Premier League's big guns are pulling further and further away. It's getting so absurd this season that the title contenders rarely even come close to losing against teams outside the top half -- Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea still haven't even lost.

Rafael Benitez was criticised for setting up his Newcastle side with 11 men behind the ball when they played City -- and lost 1-0 -- at St James' Park last season, but other clubs have paid such a heavy price for being open against the top teams, conceding five, six or even seven goals, that it is no surprise that some have now seemingly abandoned hope in those games.

When so many teams approach games against the likes of City and Liverpool fearing the worst, what chance do they have of getting anything other than a heavy defeat? And what does this do to the weekly watchability of the Premier League?

City, who are scoring at an average of three goals per game, sit two points clear at the top after winning nine of their 11 league games so far. Second-place Chelsea have drawn three of their 11 games -- against Liverpool, United and West Ham -- while the only teams to take points off Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool this term have been City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Spurs have been inconsistent this season but two of their three defeats came against the "Big Six" -- home losses to Liverpool and City -- with Watford, protecting a 100 percent record at the time, the only team outside the current top six taking points off them. Arsenal lost to City and Chelsea, and drew with Liverpool, with only Crystal Palace taking points off them from outside the top six.

United, it seems, are still playing to the old rules of unpredictability being king, with Jose Mourinho's men losing to Brighton and West Ham, and drawing at home to Wolves, as well as taking just one point from a possible six against Spurs and Chelsea. But if you discount United's results on the basis that they cannot be described as a title contender this season, no team sitting lower than eighth in the Premier League has beaten one of the teams vying for the title this term.

The tragic death of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha last month offered a reminder of the sporting miracle performed by the club during the 2015-16 season, when Claudio Ranieri's team defied odds of 5000-1 to win the Premier League title.

Leicester came from nowhere to leave the elite trailing in their wake and their success continues to be held up as the ultimate example of the unpredictability of sport and, more directly, the ability of the Premier League to throw up incredible surprises. But rather than signal a changing of the Premier League landscape, Leicester's title triumph merely hardened the resolve of the biggest and richest clubs to pull even further away.

Since 2016, the top six have been a closed shop with the "Big Six" pulling up the drawbridge. Their accumulated wealth, generated by Champions League income, Premier League prize money or benevolent owners, has sent them over the horizon.

The gulf has become massive and coaches further down the league are now driven by damage-limitation rather than adventure. Everton finished seventh in 2016-17, eight points adrift of sixth-placed United, while Burnley landed seventh last season -- nine points behind Arsenal, who occupied the final place in the top six.

This season doesn't look like it will be any different. Bournemouth sit in the sixth spot but Saturday's defeat against United moved Mourinho's team level on points, so don't expect Eddie Howe's men to defy gravity for too much longer.

If the imbalance continues unchecked, crowds will drop as supporters pick and choose their games and the huge sums received from broadcasting deals could also be at risk if the spectacle becomes bland and predictable. It's much better to watch the Bundesliga or La Liga if you want unpredictability this season. And that is a worrying development for the Premier League.