Sunday, December 30, 2018

Liverpool's to Lose

OUT OF NOWHERE, THE REDS ARE SEVEN POINTS CLEAR AT THE TOP

"Football is an unpredictable game" is one of those mind-numbing cliches trotted out whenever there is an upset of sorts.

The thing is the yearly cycle of hopes and dreams alternately built up, fulfilled or smashed that is the football season lends itself so readily to repeated quips of interpretation. It's a marathon not a sprint, trip up in the home straight etc are perfectly adequate ways to describe what we know by hand now.

Of course it is a fairly predictable sport or else the betting industry would not survive, basing its business model on the laws of probability.

Liverpool FC


Leicester City's capture of the Premier League in 2016 is the frustrating spanner in the works of any accusations that money has captured the game and given birth to an unassailable hegemony of the top clubs.

Likewise the many Christmas twists in this season's Premier League race have drawn some into thinking it really is an open competition where David can kill Goliath on any given Saturday.

This is nonsense of course.

Liverpool might have found themselves in an unexpected seven-point lead at the top of the tree as we enter 2019 and Manchester City have just as surprisingly lost two on the trot but the top six are still the usual suspects at this halfway stage.

That said, it would be healthy if a club which has not won the title since the end of the 1980's could capture it in 2018, even if they have the spending power to be there or thereabouts (sorry for the cliche) every season.

The gap between the top five and the rest is substantial. Wolves, despite a rejuvenating and most unexpected 3-1 win at Wembley yesterday over the hitherto lauded Tottenham Hotspur, are still 25 points behind the leaders.

Was Spurs' recent cavalcade a false dawn? And what about Arsenal, who despite all the talk of a rebirth under Unai Emery, have still only won one point more than they had this time last season.

The Gunners were a country mile behind a rampant and ravenous Liverpool at Anfield in their 5-1 demolition so they can put their Champions League plans on hold.

Oh and then there is Manchester United who have won three on the bounce since Jose Mourinho was handed his P45. Undoubtedly the timing of the Special One's firing was timed to coincide with a run of manageable fixtures: Cardiff, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Newcastle, plus Reading in the FA Cup.

Spurs away on the 13th of January should bring the Baby-Faced Assassin's explosive arrival to an end, but that is followed by home matches with Brighton and Burnley, further smoothing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's path.

So far so good, but honeymoons always end. At this stage it still seems hard to see United making the Champions League with an eight-point deficit to fourth place to conquer plus the staying power of Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City to counter.

Solskjaer should probably remain boss given his popularity with fans and players, but missing out on the Champions League could see United on the managerial merry-go-round yet again.

As for Liverpool, the elephantine 27-year wait for the title for England's traditionally strongest club could be set to end in 2019, but there is a long way to go and some stiff competition to see off first.

I can hear another cliche coming on.

Many of us would like to see Liverpool win as a tonic to Man City's recent dominance, a reward for Jurgen Klopp's enthusiasm and a fond reminder of the Red Machine of our childhoods.

It might also help gnarled old curmudgeons like me accept there is still a sense of competition left in England's top flight.

Klopp himself of course is doing his best to dowse the fires of expectation but he cannot alone stop the media, fans, players and himself starting to get goosepimples as we pass the halfway mark.

Pep Guardiola has clearly been studying Alex Ferguson's mind games, calling Liverpool "the best team in Europe" this week as the glint of the title trophy starts to tantalise.

So no pressure there then. May the best team win.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: