Liverpool Still Favourites For The Title?
Liverpool and Manchester City have made a mini-league of the Premier League in the last five seasons. In truth, the Cityzens have had the edge in terms of the number of titles won; four of the last five. And yet, each season, the Reds have stood toe-to-toe with them. Two times when they haven’t won in that time, Jürgen Klopp’s men have only been a point behind.
After the Community Shield, in which Liverpool defeated Manchester City 3-1, it was clear that both teams were going to go at it this season. Even then, this might just be the season where they wrestle the title of the reigning champions.
For all of the excellence that has been Pep Guardiola’s team, a number of changes have been effected in the team, especially during the transfer window. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko have all exited the Etihad in the same season without like-for-like replacements. These exits were going to affect the team’s stability. The only marquee signing was Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund and the Norwegian forward was going to signify a significant shift of approach for Guardiola.
Liverpool, on the other hand, had only let go of their fringe players while complementing the main team with the signing of Darwin Nunez from Benfica. Of course, the sale of Sadio Mane could readily have an impact. However, last season, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Mane all recorded double figures in Premier League goals. So, if Nunez hits the same tally range, he would effectively be replacing the Senegalese forward even though he’s of a different mode.
After three match days, the reverse has now been the case. Manchester City have not missed the players they let go. They have only adapted their game to the strengths of Haaland. The 22-year-old has also done the same, coming deep to join the play while arriving in the box to finish off the chances. He has scored three goals this season. Meanwhile, Liverpool have not been able to generate any form of fluidity in attack. At times, they have appeared like unfitting individual components leading to a poorly-run machine.
Nunez experienced his first bit of misfortune when he got sent off for headbutting Joachim Andersen. And against Manchester United, they lacked his presence. More telling is the fact that Luis Diaz is simply not Mane. The latter scored double figures in the five seasons he was at Merseyside. And yet, it is hard to see the Colombian replicating this feat. Jota may yet come good, but he will hope to overcome his fitness issues. Liverpool are now five points behind the Champions.
These are very early days, but it seems very unlikely that the Reds can get in the groove and begin a desperate chase of Manchester City. Arsenal and Tottenham have also recruited excellently and are waiting in the shadows for any slip-ups. Both teams will hope to achieve some consistency. And as far as great starts go, the London teams are on track.
For now, Klopp will do well not to focus on his rivals. One positive too for the German would be how Manchester City seemed to lose their way at the turn of the year, allowing Liverpool to claw their way back, having been 12 points behind. The signs are bad for their title challenge, but it is time to focus on themselves.
Manchester United and Chelsea to struggle
The problems of Chelsea are well documented. Even from last season, the Blues have struggled to score. Big signing, Romelu Lukaku struggled to fit into the plans of Thomas Tuchel. For most of the season, the Belgian had cut a frustrated figure, wandering hopelessly on the pitch. And after scoring eight goals, he has now been loaned back to Inter.
Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic have scored 61 goals in 286 Premier League games combined. Last term, the German missed 12 big chances and scored from only 10.8% of his shots.
Raheem Sterling has joined from City, but he certainly doesn’t look like the solution. After an extraordinary encounter in the London Derby against Tottenham, Tuchel’s men were brought back to earth, their scoring problems further emphasised
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has now joined from Barcelona. He is the earmarked solution to this problem. However, the former Arsenal forward will be under immense pressure. He will be expected to hit the ground running, thus forming an early partnership with his teammates.
If he has anything close to the instantaneous impact he had Barcelona in five months, scoring 11 La Liga goals, then a top-four finish might just be in sight. And yet, this season, the competition from the other chasing pack is going to be more intense. Fingers crossed.
Manchester United defeated Liverpool at Old Trafford but even they might not have expected it. They have also announced the recruitment of their big-money signing, Casemiro from Real Madrid. The Brazilian will expectedly bring solidity to the midfield in place of a mostly ineffective Fred.
And yet, you reckon that a decade of dysfunction will take more than one marquee signing to roll back. If anything, this is all that the Red Devils have been for the past few seasons: topsy-turvy, with few strings of euphoric results sandwiched between horrible and disgraceful losses. The result against Liverpool was one of those highs.
The Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum still remains. The forward guarantees goals, yet, he tends to upset the balance in the side in terms of playing structure.
Ralf Ragnick had spoken about the team needing more than 10 signings to bring about a lasting change. However, the Glazer family have been strangely inept, scrambling for players without a long-term plan or an understanding of the sport.
Manchester United are set to struggle once again this season. A Europa League spot might yet be their best bet.