The Premier League has turned into a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

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What, where when? Just when we thought a few weeks ago that there were at least four teams capable of winning the Premier League, everything has all of a sudden opened up. After the midweek games which was the 15th round of matches in England two teams have emerged as possible title winners. The first and in top place is champions Manchester City, the second is Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League title and have not won England’s top division since 1990.

So how did Chelsea and Tottenham suddenly fall away from contention? Maurizio Sarri’s side have won just 1 game in their past four matches and yet up until the 12th game of the season he had an unbeaten side at his disposal. But first they were exposed by Tottenham at Wembley, easily losing 3-1. They bounced back against Fulham in the west London derby only to lose to Wolves, which was seen as a shock result given how poor Wolves have been in the past month.

Chelsea are now 10 points behind City and are clinging onto 4th place only on goal difference to Arsenal. Tottenham in beating Southampton are back in 3rd place after being dislodged in the top 4 over the weekend when they lost to eternal nemesis Arsenal by 4-2. But Spurs have bounced back well. But they are still evidently a few levels below City and Liverpool, they have 33 points and are 8 points behind the league leaders.

All of this means of course that the league has turned into a two horse race before Christmas, although the flurry of fixtures could well shake that up. Manchester City will play Chelsea away next and a win for Pep Guardiola’s side will surely signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Games follow against Everton, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton. It is fair to think that from all of those matches City could expect 13 points which would put them on 54 before the year is out.

As for Liverpool who are the romantics choice of league winners giving how it has been 28 years since they won the league they will have to play Bournemouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal. The Reds seem to have a tougher run and could end up with 11 points which would put them on 50.

It is possible then that only 4 points will separate the two teams. And you can guess which fixture comes after the new year- that’s right these two teams will meet and it will be Manchester City who will be at home in what could be a big step to deciding the title. Still there are plenty of games to be played before then and like a typical Premier League campaign there will be plenty of twists and turns that is for sure.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was wrong to run on the pitch but should he be punished?

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Liverpool and Everton’s fierce Merseyside derby was going to end 0-0 and then in the 96th minute Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made the error of the season to gift the Reds a goal and they won 1-0. At that point Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager ran onto the pitch and broke FA rules, but should he be punished?

We need to look as always from both views of the argument. What Klopp did was wrong and disrespectful, that there can be no doubt. Liverpool didn’t score a magnificent last minute goal, it all stemmed from an error by Pickford where if he was given the choice another 99 times he would have used his common sense as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and let the ball go out of play. Klopp celebrating like he did just seemed out of place and wrong.

And yet he celebrated not to rub Pickford’s nose in it but for three things: 1) a last minute winner, 2) a win in a derby game, 3) Liverpool still keeping in touch with Manchester City. Had the game as expected ended 0-0 Liverpool would have found themselves 4 points adrift to Pep Guardiola’s team.

Klopp is a lovable figure and unless you were an Everton fan let’s face it the sight of him running onto the pitch like a fan and then embracing goalkeeper Alisson was funny. But still Klopp seemed to lose control of himself. This was an important game true, but it wasn’t a cup final or a game that decided the league.

Marco Silva, the Everton manager was clearly not happy with what had happened and the fires have been stoked more with Klopp claiming that he apologised to Silva. Yet Silva has denied this, so the plot thickens.

As for Klopp, the FA will inevitably open up a case against the German, again should he be punished? The answer needs to come in two parts because Klopp is facing a fine and touchline ban. One should presume that romanticism still exists in football despite the money poured into it which has bridged a gap between the players and fans. In that way Klopp should not be punished with a touchline ban and put his team at a slight if psychological disadvantage for their next Premier League game.

But Klopp should be fined, nothing too serious, but he has to pay for breaking the rules as anyone else would do too. And it might make sense for him to apologise for the second or in Silva’s case the first time again to Everton.

Confidence abound as Everton take on Liverpool

 

Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK, The Kop, Anfield, Logos and manager cut-outs added by Sean Lunt, CC BY 2.0

Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK, The Kop, Anfield, Logos and manager cut-outs added by Sean Lunt, CC BY 2.0

It’s a rare occurrence that Everton head to Anfield to take on Liverpool full of confidence and belief. History has taught them that is a foolish notion.

In the 52 Premier League games they’ve played at Anfield as they’ve managed nine wins. The last of those came 19 years ago. In their last five league visits, they’ve managed two draws and three defeats. Twice in the last four years, they’ve suffered 4-0 defeats there.

Travelling across Stanley Park has become a regular pilgrimage of misery. Even last year, when Sam Allardyce’s side earned a point, there was little joy to be had. Fans had to endure 90 minutes of watching their side defend deep and scrap for an undeserved point. Wayne Rooney’s penalty offered a moment to celebrate but in reality, there was little to enjoy. Continue reading

Does Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp avoid pressure on job due to media love in?

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Jurgen Klopp is probably one of the most friendliest and down to Earth managers in the game today. If we think of the German, manager of Liverpool our thoughts are immediate: His smile, laughter and his set of perfect teeth. He is a dedicated football man who wants nothing more than to win trophies- but after 3 seasons at Liverpool he has failed in that department. Why is it then that Klopp for the most part has avoided any pressure on his job despite spending hundreds of millions on players?

A certain Jose Mourinho at Liverpool must feel dumbfounded at times at the pressure on him, which is pretty much constant despite winning 2 major trophies with Manchester United since he joined the club in 2015. The Red Devils also put in a solid season last, no trophies but finishing 2nd to perhaps the greatest side ever to grace the Premier League in Manchester City. As others have pointed out most other seasons and United would have been champions with the points that had been amassed.

What gives then? Why do certain managers feel the wrath of pressure when failing when others don’t when doing the same thing? Think of Mourinho like we just have with Klopp, what comes into your mind? Mourinho comes across as glum, downtrodden, he hardly breaks a smile even when his team wins and he is critical of players through the press. And this seems to be one of the redeeming answers, Klopp doesn’t get the back pages attacking him because the media love him.

And the media are in love with him because in almost every press conference he is smiling and happy go lucky. At times it seems like the real Liverpool manager is waiting in the wings whilst Klopp kicks off the show with a comedy routine. He is infectious and a real charmer. Think of when he was caught smoking a year or so back by a paparazzi photographer. The news was forgotten within 24 hours, now imagine that was Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, or the new Arsenal boss Unai Emery- that photo and story would run for years. England loves Klopp and Klopp loves England, and that is all very well.

However surely Klopp’s time at Liverpool will be remembered for reaching cup finals and losing. A Champions League last season and a Europa League defeat a few seasons back are evidence. It is incredible with the way Liverpool have invested and played how they have nothing to show for it apart from some memorable games and goals.

One hopes that Klopp stays around in the Premier League, football needs more of him- but at the same time isn’t it time to start passing judgment on how his record as a coach will stand at Liverpool?

Who will blink first in race for Premier League title- Manchester City or Liverpool?

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A glance at the Premier League table has champions Manchester City where we all thought they would be in 1st position. In 2nd is Liverpool and in 3rd place is Chelsea. There is just 4 points between the top three, with all of these teams yet to be beaten after 12 games. But just who is emerging as the new champions?

It might be controversial to take this stance but perhaps we can rule out Chelsea for this season. This has nothing to do with having a new manager in Maurizio Sarri, since Antonio Conte won the league with the Blues in his debut season. It’s just that this Chelsea side have more competitive teams around them than they did a couple of seasons ago.

Chelsea have been drawing too many games lately and losing precious points, especially at home and this was underlined this past weekend with a 0-0 draw against Everton.

Manchester City with their superb 3-1 derby win against Manchester United on Sunday pulled 4 points clear of Sarri’s men and it seems evidently clear that City’s main rival this season will be Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. But just who will blink first and start to drop points when it matters?

In some ways City hold the slight advantage. Not only are they 2 points clear of Liverpool but they have played them at Anfield and came away with a draw which was 1 point gained for City and in theory 2 points dropped at home for Liverpool.

It is worth taking a look at each clubs fixtures up to the end of the year. After the international break City will travel to West Ham. Whilst they should get all three points, the Hammers have already proven that they can step up a few gears when playing the best sides in the league and have already drawn with Chelsea at London Stadium and beaten Manchester United.

Next for Pep Guardiola’s team is Bournemouth at home and away to Watford before a crunch match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Then they are at home to Everton, face Palace at home, away to Leicester and then again away to Southampton. At least 20 points can be acquired by City in those matches which would take them to 52 as we welcome in 2019.

For Liverpool the importance of course is staying with City- can they do it? Their fixtures kick off against Watford away and then they face the derby at home to Everton. Two away games come up next against Burnley and Bournemouth. Then in mid December is a massive game at home against Manchester United. Then a trip to tricky Wolves and two home games to round out the year against Newcastle United and Arsenal.

On the face of it Liverpool have a much harder run in. 15 points could be gained, anymore and Liverpool deserve to be genuine title contenders. In theory then at the end of the year Manchester City could have 52 points compared to Liverpool with 45. A 7 point gap to a Pep Guardiola team seems to much to give, and it is Liverpool that may be blinking first as we head into the final straight come January.

Liverpool or PSG set to be knocked out of Champions League at the group stage

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Liverpool and PSG were amongst the favourites to win this seasons Champions League but it looks more and more like one of them will not even qualify for the knock out rounds after a topsy turvy group stage.

When the two European giants were announced to be in the same group, there was obvious excitement but most pundits believed they would get through in a group also containing Italians Napoli and Red Star. But some surprise results have left that chance really open ended with just 2 games left to play each for the super clubs.

Liverpool who got to the final last season have already lost 2 of their 4 games. These defeats both came away from home against Napoli and then this week to Red Star in a 2-0 loss. However for now they are still in 2nd place on 6 points.

As for PSG they started their campaign off with a loss away to Liverpool which ended 3-2 and then they drew two times against Napoli but slaughtered Red Star at home, they are, at this moment going into the Europa League with 5 points so far.

Napoli have been the real surprise and the problem for Liverpool and PSG. But Napoli who are in 1st place are not safe yet as they have drawn 3 of their 4 games but they do remain unbeaten. So the key to qualification will be in the next two matchday fixtures.

Napoli will play Red Star at home and given how poor they have been on the road we would expect a win for the Italians. But then they have to play Liverpool away and what would be a packed out and atmospheric Anfield and that could well end in a loss, so Napoli has the chance to finish with 9 points.

Liverpool have a massive crunch test with PSG in Paris on November 28th and it will in effect feel like a knockout game. All eyes will be on this match, let’s be conservative and say this game ends in a draw. It would mean that even if PSG beat Red Star away from home as long as Liverpool win they would go through. The key game seems to be Napoli’s match against Red Star, win that and one of Liverpool or PSG are going to go out. It would be a massive blow for either club.

Arguably one could say the blow is bigger for PSG given the new coach in Thomas Tuchel and the fact they have Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in order to win the competition. By the end of this month we should know which one of these teams will be playing Europa League football next year.

Is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah a one season wonder?

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This summer everyone has fallen at the feet of Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah and quite rightly so as the Egyptian international had a fantastic season up front, but the worry with Salah is, was it simply a one off?

When Salah joined Liverpool for almost £40m last summer from Roma the transfer hardly made the headlines. This was in part because he had already played in the Premier League for Chelsea where he had failed to impress. At the London club Jose Mourinho quickly dismissed the player and he played just 3 games in the same season that Chelsea went on to win the league. He was put on loan to Fiorentina and then Roma and Salah’s chances of making an impact in the Premier League looked lost.

That was until Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp saw potential in him as a classic centre forward and brought him back from Roma. Klopp’s decision paid dividends with Salah scoring 32 goals in the league and 44 goals in all competitions. It was a remarkable debut season and reminded one of Fernando Torres’ first season also with Liverpool. Though Liverpool came up empty handed last season despite reaching the Champions League final, Salah has been rightly praised for his presence in the box and his goals and has continually been making the short lists for all sorts of awards. Last week he won the goal of the season for example.

However Salah has started this season off very slow, scoring just 3 goals so far from 11 games in all competitions. Whilst at this stage of the season there really shouldn’t be any cause for concern we only have to look back throughout his career to see that last season may have been unique.

Take out last season and the most league goals Salah has scored is 15 with Roma. In all competitions that rises to 19 again with Roma in the same season. Salah is 26 and whilst he still has a good five seasons at the very top it is easy to see why last season doesn’t correspond with the others.

Still how will this affect Liverpool is anyone’s guess giving that they have an abundance of players that can score goals in the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino but Salah’s lack of goals this season could come back to haunt Liverpool at a later stage in the season when they need him to make the difference. Salah will certainly score more goals this season but on the evidence of his past history and the way he has started this season it is questionable if he is the real deal or as Steven Gerrard once said: “we are witnessing the start of greatness.”, which may have been said quite prematurely.

 

Liverpool still need to replace Philippe Coutinho

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As 0-0 draws go Liverpool’s meeting with Manchester City on Sunday was one Jurgen Klopp will have taken plenty from. The chief lesson will have been that his side still need to find a replacement for Philippe Coutinho.

Sunday’s meeting at Anfield had been billed as one of the games of the season before a ball had been kicked. Given the quality of these meetings last season, it was easy to see why. There was a high expectation that both teams would put on a spectacle. Attacking football, goals and plenty of drama were anticipated.

Instead, the opposite proved to be the case. Rather than a thrill ride, those watching were treated to something more akin to a chess game. Continue reading

Why the Premier League could possibly go to Liverpool or Chelsea

Last Sunday’s display from Chelsea and Liverpool could be christened as the best game so far this season. Both teams exhibited creativity in attack and resilience at the back. The season is still young, but on the evidence of what we witnessed could any of these two beat City to the league title this season?

Liverpool probably made the best recruits in the English Premier league this summer, bolstering their midfield with Naby Keita and Fabinho and another creative option in Xherdan Shaqiri. The Merseysiders have a world class goalkeeper in Allison Becker, who continue to provide great reflexes in the post. Liverpool have enough quality to compete against anyone for the league title this season and they’ve shown that in their last seven league games.

We saw how they conquered Tottenham Hotspurs at Wembley. It wasn’t just about the results, but the football on display has been mesmerizing. And talk of performance their 3-2 victory over Paris Saint Germain was a testament of their mental fortitude.

Not only have Jurgen Klopp reinvigorated the side that lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League finals last season, there seems to be an oomph about them this season. Established players James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, and Jordan Henderson et al are playing at a level a notch higher that we saw in the previous campaign.

This season Mohammed Salah is not showing the same sophistication with opportunities that have come his way. The Egyptian has scored three goals from a total of 20 shots on target. But Sadio Mane seems to have taken much of the responsibility when it comes to goals. So far adorning the number 10 jersey has yielded four, with Roberto Firmino on two.

James Milner has proven that he still cut it for the premier league with his tireless work in midfield, but Gini Widnaldum is currently Liverpool’s most improved player so far this season. The Netherlands international is playing with a lot confidence, hardly giving the ball away. And guess what, he doesn’t look flustered by the presence of Naby Keita on the bench.

The decision to bring Daniel Sturridge back from loan has proven to be an astute one. In the absence of Roberto Firmino, Sturridge can step up and play an important part in Liverpool’s campaign this season as we’ve seen him score vital goals against PSG in the Champions League and Chelsea in the league.

One significant decision by Kloop, is the center back partnership between Van Dyke and Gomes. The pair have started all seven of Liverpool league games and have conceded just three so far. They share the tag of the best defense with the league leaders, Manchester City.

Chelsea

The great thing about Chelsea this season is the arrival of Mauricio Sarri. His style of play is one that Eden Hazard thrives in, and the Belgian is currently in red hot form as he is beginning to replicate his 2015 performance that won him the PFA player of the year. Also, Hazard is buoyed up his inclusion in the FIFPro World Eleven. The Chelsea forward had a great World Cup tournament with his country, winning the bronze medal.

Chelsea meanwhile occasionally telegraphs fear at the back as Antonio Rudiger and David Luis sometimes struggle against quicker attackers. But in midfield enforcer Jorginho, Matteo Kovacic and Ngolo Kante, Chelsea should be able to dominate and control games. There are still concerns about how Sarri is using a Kante’ in midfield. Despite the French man’s reputation as being destructive, the Italian manager prefers a ball playing holding midfielder in Jorginho who currently top the charts for the number of passes in the league and the most in a game.

Willian and Pedro are great attacking outlets for Chelsea. The Spanish forward has found the net three times while the Brazilian ability to carve open compact defense is proving crucial for Chelsea in when in search of a goal. Chelsea do not boost a striker with the quality of Sergio Aguero as both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are not quite reliable. Sarri may require a proven goal scorer in the January transfer window.

Manchester City are favorite based on their performance last season and Pep Guadiola’s reputation for winning back to back league titles, but the Citizens look beatable this season and it’s hard to envisage them go on a winning run as we saw last season. It will take a Miracle for Manchester United to win the league this season as tensions between Mourinho and Pogba is beginning to have a debilitating effect on the other players. The red devils will probably be fighting a Champions League spot.

Meanwhile Arsenal seems to have turned the corner after their earlier struggles, but despite winning their last four games are not convincing given the defensive vulnerabilities and how wasteful they can be in th attack. Tottenham Hotspur will be hoping to maintain fourth spot by the end of the season.

As it stands Chelsea and Liverpool look set to deny Manchester city a second straight league cup.

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Liverpool vs Chelsea showed Reds new strength

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As Jurgen Klopp left Anfield on Wednesday evening his emotions will have been mixed. While defeat to Chelsea and an exit from the Carabao Cup were disappointing, the evening was not a wasted one. The German will have seen plenty of positives from his side. The biggest? His Liverpool team is now one with real strength in depth.

With a tilt at the Premier League and Champions League taking priority this season, the League Cup was unlikely to take precedent for Klopp and his men. The FA Cup will be treated in a similar way. Winning them would be a bonus but they are not important.

His team selection for the clash with Chelsea demonstrated as much. Klopp had insisted beforehand he would not rotate but it was a temptation he did not resist.  Continue reading