Manchester United are the beatable champions - or will be later this week. It's not a catchy maxim, but, in fact, it's probably the best thing to happen to the Premier League for a few years. Football's move towards business models and profit maximisation has helped foster a results-based culture; where results are everything and anything else fun about football is secondary, thirdly, or ignored completely. This season's Manchester United have offered a much-needed repost to that.
Since the new millennium, title winners have seemed like other-worldly specimens. Manchester United started it; then Arsenal became, briefly, untouchable, and then Jose Mourinho shifted the dominance-paradigm up a gear, before United wrestled control back again more recently. Defeats for champions elect have come to be met with gasps, such is their rarity. These points totals in the nineties are impressive in their own way - they represent ruthlessness, ingenuity, efficiency; all qualities to admire - but there's also something cold about this kind of success.
Dominance through ruthless efficiency places an emphasis on the result over the journey, and that means an emphasis on money. Results have always meant a lot, but their importance has become inextricably linked to money: teams get themselves into the Champions League in order to get the Champions League money: teams stay in the Premier League in order to get the Premier League money, and so on. Impeccable sequences of results are also usually stimulated by serious cash: Chelsea rose when Roman Abramovich injected oil dollars and Manchester United won the Champions League the season after signing: Nani, Carlos Tevez, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves in one transfer window.
Vulnerability helps remind us that football isn't all about results and helps us pretend that it's not all about money. Manchester United have dropped 32 points so far this season. When the almost-champions are regularly slipping up - when people begin to see room for bad results in football - there's room for appreciation of other things: moments like Wayne Rooney's stunning overhead kick against Manchester City, or Ryan Giggs still doing it at 37. There's room to appreciate the actual game of football which, you would hope, made the results important in the first place.
Losing highlights how hard winning is, and makes it mean more. When United beat Blackpool after being 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go, it made for one of the best moments of the season. Partly, it was because that game demonstrated a will to win and an unwillingness to lose that's utterly inspiring. But more than that, the game was brilliant because the result never felt inevitable; it always hung in the balance.
There has never been that efficiency about Manchester United this season that has made victory look inevitable, and that's made things exciting. Without the champions being far better than everyone else, the Premier League this season has seemed a less about who's got the best players - the most money to spend - and more about mental fortitude and sharp management. It all sounds a bit more like a fan's version of how things should work, even if the reality is still that the richest teams are fighting it out at the top and the poorest ones are struggling at the bottom.
Football should be about more than results and money and, whilst those two things have influenced this season massively, Manchester United and a few others have at times offered a nice reminder of some of the other things that a season is about. Be glad Manchester United have won the league the way they have, because it means that there's still room for enjoyment amongst all the result-centric seriousness in football.