The Premier League title race is almost over. Projections from betting markets see Manchester City finishing with 92 points, Liverpool on 83, Chelsea on 78. FiveThirtyEight's prediction system basically agrees: City on 92, Liverpool on 84, Chelsea on 76.

Again, we say almost over. The African Cup of Nations ended on Sunday and Liverpool sit nine points back of City, with a game in hand, as Mo Salah and Sadio Mane (and Luis Diaz and Thiago and Harvey Elliott) return to the team. Win the game in hand, and then win the game against City on April 9, and Jurgen Klopp's team just has to make up three points over the other 14 games left on the schedule.

How likely is that? According to FiveThirtyEight, City have an 83% chance of winning the league, while Liverpool have a 16% shot.

Although City, Liverpool and Chelsea are among the four favorites to win the Champions League (along with Bayern Munich), there's a clear stratification among them. Per FiveThirtyEight, Liverpool have a 68% chance of finishing second, while Chelsea have a 67% chance of finishing third. It's not just that the title race has a clear favorite, so does the race for second and the race for third. These three teams are in a league of their own -- and then in leagues of their own, within that league of their own.

But once you get beyond that Big Three? Complete chaos. According to FiveThirtyEight, only one team has a greater than 30% chance of finishing in any particular position in the table: Norwich in 20th, and that's still only projected to happen 38% of the time. While there are still massive financial disparities among the "Other 17," as we'll call them, a league without City, Liverpool, and Chelsea would simply be a much more competitive league this year. In games against the Big Three, West Ham is the only team that doesn't have a negative goal differential (plus-1 in three games) and the only team averaging more than a point per match (2.0 PPG).

So, it's time for a thought experiment: What if Liverpool, City, and Chelsea just suddenly disappeared?

Make up whatever story you want -- extraterrestrial abduction, a Leftovers-like event, or just a simple Super League-style breakaway -- but let's imagine a league without them. What would the storylines be? Who would be fighting for the title? How many teams would be in the Champions League places? And what about relegation? We'll take a look at all the games between the Other 17 to find some answers.

 

The title race won't leave North London

Given that the schedules are still uneven, we're going to have to look at most of this through a per-game lens. (Take notes, broadcasters!) Without the Big Three, two teams in the league would be averaging two or more points: Arsenal (2.1) and Tottenham (2.0).

Mikel Arteta's side would be the slight favorites for the title, as his Gunners have dominated the Other 17 in just about every way imaginable. They're leading the league, or are tied for the lead, in:

  • Goals per game (1.9)
  • Expected goals per game (1.9)
  • Goals against per game (0.7)
  • Expected goals against per game (1.0)
  • Goal differential per game (plus-1.2)
  • xG differential per game (plus-0.9)
  • Touches in the box per game (29.2)
  • Touches allowed in the box per game (17.4)

They're doing it by ignoring the orthodoxy of the day. Pressure? Never heard of her!

Among the Other 17, the Gunners rank 11th in passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA). Their matches average 89 possessions per team -- second-fewest in the league, compared to a league average of 95 -- and they're allowing opponents to complete 79% of their passes, which is basically league-average. Instead, they're dominating by getting organized behind the ball once they lose it and grinding out games with a slow and methodical possession approach once they win it.