Written by Rob Edwards (@rob_edwards19)
At the start of the season, not many would have predicted that Liverpool would sit eight points clear at the top of table, with Leicester and Chelsea the two teams closest to them.
Following Sunday’s 3-1 victory at Anfield, Klopp’s men now lead City by nine points, with last year’s champions looking a shadow of their usual selves. With Liverpool holding such a substantial lead over their rivals, and having only dropped two points all season, the question must be asked, is the title race over?
History is on Liverpool’s side. They are one of only three teams to take 34 points from their opening 12 games. The other two went on to win the title. They were Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City in 2012 and Pep Guardiola’s in 2018. Last year, they became the first team in top-flight history to win as many as 30 games and 97 points in a season, and not win the title. Despite Champions League success, the Kop still craves that first league title in 29 years.
Having so narrowly missed out on championship glory, fans of the club went into this season more optimistic than ever. Whilst Sunday’s result will be seen as the most significant one so far, stoppage timer winners against Aston Villa and Leicester have given Liverpool results which are the hallmark of potential champions. At times this season, they have failed to find their rhythm going forward in games, but nonetheless have found a way to win.
Having not lost a league fixture since January, comparisons with the ‘Invincibles’ will become more and more frequent the longer this remarkable run of form continues. From Klopp’s perspective, he will be ensuring that his team take nothing for granted and approach each game the same as the last.
Regarding Manchester City, it’s a question of what if. Would we be looking at a three-point gap as opposed to nine if that penalty had been given in the build-up to Liverpool’s opener? Pep’s frustration towards the officials was there for all too see post-match, but his focus should be on addressing the issues within his team, rather than decisions made by the referee.
Laporte injury causes ‘leaky’ City defence
Ever since the injury to Laporte, City haven’t looked right. Last season, especially at the Etihad, teams would be limited to two to three opportunities a game, if that. However, a suspect backline has allowed numerous teams to exploit clear weaknesses within a fragile Manchester City side. In the defeats to Norwich and Wolves, there were times where the City defence was opened up with such ease that you would never have guessed this team could become the first team to win three league titles in a row since Ferguson’s United.
City were at their best last season with Kompany and Laporte partnered at the back, with Fernandinho serving as a screen in front of them. Seeing Kompany move on would have hurt every City fan, but looking back, it seems remarkable that a manager as good as Pep didn’t recognise, he would need replacing. Of course, he couldn’t account for the injury to Laporte, but going into the season with three fit centre-halves is a recipe for disaster.
Now it would be absurd to rule City completely out of the title race. They were seven points behind Liverpool heading into the New Year last season and they managed to overhaul that deficit with ease. They are capable of putting together an extraordinary run of results, but to do, so Pep needs to address the leaky defence otherwise they are at risk of dropping more points and falling further off the pace.
Despite the result on Sunday, many pundits maintain the stance that City are Liverpool’s closest challengers. However, sandwiched between City and Liverpool in the league lie Leicester and Chelsea in 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Both sides have been on a miraculous run of form of late seeing them both become firm favourites to finish in the top four. They currently maintain a nine-point lead over Sheffield United in 5th place, with Arsenal, Spurs and United all struggling for form. To maintain their current ranking would be a phenomenal feat for both sides, but the question is could they really challenge Liverpool for the title?
Frank’s in-form blues
Chelsea are currently on a six match-winning run in the league. The last time they did that, they won the title back in 2017. The form of players such as Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham has been a breath of fresh air. Despite the transfer ban imposed, Lampard has managed to get the right balance of both youth and experience, and for that he deserves all the plaudits he has been given.
However, the criticism of this Chelsea team has been how they approach games against the Big Six. They have lost just twice in the league this season, 4-0 to United opening day and 2-1 at home to Liverpool in September. Although both those defeats seem a long time ago, at times they have looked vulnerable and have found themselves hanging on in games which they should have won comfortably. Of course, some of these players are still enjoying their maiden season in the top-flight so it would seem un-fair to criticize them too much. They travel to champions City in the next fixture. That will tell us more about how good this team really is.
From Leicester’s perspective, the skies the limit. At the start of the season, many believed the Foxes would be the most likely team to disrupt the top six. Many have made the bold statement of suggesting this side is better than the one which triumphed in 2016. The absence of European football is of course a boost for any side, but that shouldn’t take anything anyway from how good this Leicester side have been.
Arsenal were the latest team to succumb to defeat, and they certainly won’t be the last. Winning games is always made easier when you have a striker who is in as good as form as Jamie Vardy, who looks every bit if not better than he did when he won the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award in 2016. The main concern for Leicester fans would be how much of blow it would be if they were to lose Vardy, with their bench lacking another proper number nine. Like Chelsea, they too have Manchester City away coming up. Win there, and Liverpool will have to take notice with they themselves travelling to the King Power on Boxing Day.
There is no doubt that this is Liverpool’s title to lose. The win over City was a significant one. However, their biggest hurdle is still yet to come.
From 23 November to 2 January, Liverpool face a period of 12 games in 37 days in four competitions – the Premier League, Champions League, EFL Cup and Club World Cup – with an FA Cup third-round tie still to be determined in the first week of 2020.
Jurgen Klopp has expressed his dissatisfaction at the fixture congestion with calls to find a solution echoed by many in the game. It will be fascinating to see how he manages his squad and how it looks when they exit the busy period. If they remain un-scathed come the New Year, then the signs will look ominous for those chasing them down.