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Premier League title is now Liverpool’s to lose? Don’t be daft | Football


The shock of the season seems to have arrived already, with suggestions that it is Liverpool’s title to lose following Manchester City’s unexpected collapse at Norwich. The shock being that anyone would be daft enough to make such a long-term prediction after five games. If the Premier League really is the toughest and most competitive in Europe, as everyone keeps saying, then it is clearly not going to be decided in September even if the present gap is five times larger than last season’s winning margin.

Liverpool will certainly have been given hope by the defending champions losing to a newly promoted side, because questions are now being asked about City in a way that was not happening a couple of weeks ago. The most urgent being why on earth they did not buy a replacement for Vincent Kompany when they knew their captain was leaving. Kompany provided his own answer to this after his testimonial a few days ago, pointing out reasonably enough that four top-quality centre-backs is too large a number for most clubs to run since it will usually involve one of the quartet being left out of the matchday squad.

City got away with it for so long because Kompany’s unenviable record with injury meant he was often missing or recovering, effectively allowing the other three to play enough games, but his departure coupled with Aymeric Laporte’s absence and now a month out for John Stones means they are down to just Nicolás Otamendi. “Anyone can be unlucky with an injury,” Kompany argued, but that was before the unconvincing Carrow Road display and the muscle injury Stones subsequently suffered in training in Ukraine.

Suddenly there is a chink in City’s armour, and with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher doing their best to spotlight the deficiencies in their defence, the visit of the bottom club, Watford, to the Etihad on Saturday could not come at a better time. Players such as Fernandinho and Eric García are available to patch up the backline and in all probability Pep Guardiola’s side are not about to lose to strugglers who have just re-appointed Quique Sánchez Flores, though City blips often last longer than a single game and, based on their last performance, Watford appear to be responding to their new manager. While those of a Manchester United or Liverpool persuasion are bound to be cranking up the pressure on Guardiola and his players while they can, the chances are that playing Kevin De Bruyne from the start will be enough to revive City’s fortunes.



Manchester City suffered a shock defeat at Norwich last weekend. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

The real pressure this weekend is on Liverpool, who have a five-point lead at the top as well as the last 100% record. The latter will be put to the test at Chelsea, who scored five goals on their most recent league outing at Wolves, and those advancing Tammy Abraham’s cause for an England call-up will want to see how he fares against the best centre-half in the league in Virgil van Dijk as well as one of the meanest defences around.

Although Van Dijk made a late mistake in the Champions League defeat at Napoli, remarkably few attackers manage to outwit him in direct challenges. Liverpool were unusually hesitant in Europe, though like Chelsea, who also lost, they have a full four days to recover and attempt to rediscover their Premier League tempo. No one expects Liverpool to keep performing at maximum for a whole season – they will inevitably drop points sooner or later – though they will not want to do it so soon after their main rivals showed the first sign of vulnerability.

Liverpool have conceded only four goals in their first five Premier League matches. No one has defended better, yet somewhat unexpectedly United and Leicester have proved equally secure. Chelsea, rather ominously in comparison, have conceded 11, more than anyone in the table except Norwich, which is why Frank Lampard’s sixth-placed side have a goal difference of nil. So while Lampard’s commendably attack-minded players may be capable of scoring against Liverpool, the probability exists they will also concede. Most teams find Liverpool’s attacking threat difficult to contain, and Chelsea do not only have a double-figure goals against tally, they are also the defence that United found all too easy to pick apart on the opening day.

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Perhaps that is a little unfair. The 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford was Lampard’s first game in charge and Chelsea have not lost in domestic competition since, though in their last three Premier League games they have conceded two goals on each occasion, to Wolves, Sheffield United and Norwich. While getting off on the wrong foot in Europe will be more of a concern to Liverpool, as defending champions, than Chelsea, Jürgen Klopp’s team should still find Group E sufficiently forgiving to make progress.

Liverpool managed to lose all their away group games last season and were still able to lift the big prize, yet at Anfield these days there is always a debate about what the big prize actually is. Very few clubs enjoy the luxury of being able to choose – if choose is the right word – but logic and most Liverpool supporters would suggest the biggest prize of all is the one that has proved most elusive. In which case no one should be surprised if Liverpool set out to put down a marker at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, no matter how early we are in the season.



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