We discuss why the stats are ensuring it’s becoming increasing difficult to ignore Liverpool’s title credentials and why Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s enforced absence might not be that big a blow at Manchester United.
THERE’S BEEN FALSE DAWNS BEFORE – ARE THIS LIVERPOOL THE REAL DEAL?
Liverpool underlined their title credentials with a 6-1 annihilation of Watford at Anfield to leave the club top of the pile heading into the international break and their fans wondering if, finally, this could be their year.
Title challenges aren’t a new thing for the Red men since their last success in 1989/90. Since that last title triumph, in what come May will be 27 years ago, Liverpool have finished second four times and third five times. In fact, despite the taunting over their long title wait, the Reds have only finished outside the top four on 11 occasions – the joint-lowest being the 8th-placed finish they secured under Jurgen Klopp last season.
Last season, however, there were mitigating circumstances, with the club focusing their energies on cup success; a pursuit that ultimately ended empty-handed after defeat to Manchester City in the League Cup and the capitulation to Sevilla in the Europa League.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of signs there that Liverpool would be equipped to do better this time around: a challenge they have so far embraced fully.
Sunday’s ruthless display against Watford wasn’t the first time a side had been put to the sword at Anfield this season: both Hull and Leicester had been on the wrong end of big beatings and it felt like only a matter of time before someone was given a hiding.
Watching from the our vantage point at TEAMtalk Towers, I couldn’t help but wonder at half-time if Liverpool were about to emulate the 9-0 thumping of Crystal Palace they’d achieved way back in, yep, you guessed it, the 1989/90 title-winning season.
However, once Liverpool had five, Klopp pulled off Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana (please, no jokes) with the Reds seemingly content with their lot. A shame, if you ask me.
They had Watford on the ropes and they could easily have scored more had the mood taken them. Their defence was at sixes and sevens and it seemed their players really didn’t quite have any answers to Liverpool’s high press and the wave after wave of their attacking fluency.
— TEAMtalk (@TEAMtalk) November 6, 2016
Nonetheless, Liverpool then conceded their obligatory goal, before Gini Wijnaldium wrapped up what was to prove their biggest home win since 2009.
The bookmakers still have Liverpool as second favourites for the title, but it’s no shock to see their odds shorten to just 5/2.
In addition, Liverpool have now found the net 30 times in 11 games and should their average rate of goals continue, they would reach over 100. It is 5/2 that they reach this landmark this season (2/7 they do not).
But these aren’t the only amazing statistics backing up their title credentials….
- Sadio Mane has scored in five goals in his five Premier League appearances at Anfield for Liverpool.
- Philippe Coutinho has had a hand in eight goals in his last seven PL appearances for Liverpool (three goals, five assists).
- Similarly, Roberto Firmino has scored five times and assisted three goals in his last seven league games for Liverpool.
- Coutinho has been involved 53 PL goals since making his debut in February 2013 (level with Sturridge).
- Watford have conceded more goals today v Liverpool (6) than they had in their last six PL games combined (5).
- Adam Lallana has recorded five assists this season, with only Kevin De Bruyne providing more in the Premier League this season (6).
- Liverpool are averaging 19.1 shots per game – the highest in the Premier League and the third highest in Europe’s top five leagues behind Real Madrid (20.3) and Roma (19.6)
- Liverpool boast European football’s most potent attack – with an average of 7.8 shots per game hitting the target (next highest in the Premier League is Chelsea with 6.4)
- Liverpool are the Premier League’s top scorers with 30; four ahead of nearest rivals Chelsea
- Liverpool are averaging 58% possession – the second highest in the Premier League behind Man City (61.1%)
- According to whoscored.com ratings, Liverpool have three of the top five players in the Premier League this season (Coutinho 1st, Firmino 3rd, Mane 5th)
- And finally, Liverpool are top of the Premier League at the end of a day for the first time since May 2014 – 916 days ago.
Klopp was of course keen to play down their title chances after the thumping of Watford, saying: ”It’s better than being 10th, or whatever. I am really not interested (in talking about the title). For me it is more important that we look like a team who is able to win football games.” Well, they certainly do Jurgen, they certainly do…
Liverpool fans will well be aware that there have been false dawns before – Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea forever embodying that – but this time there appears enough about Liverpool to suggest they can, for once, go the distance….
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) November 6, 2016
ZLATAN BACK ON TRACK – BUT SUSPENSION ISN’T HUGE BLOW FOR UNITED
Manchester United finally got back on the winning trail after a routine 3-1 success at Swansea – and it was certainly a match they simply had to win, given both the heightening pressure on Jose Mourinho and the fact they started the match a staggering nine points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal.
However, goals from Paul Pogba – his best in a United shirt – and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – his first in 609 minutes – ensured a comfortable win that leaves the table looking slightly more favourable heading into the international break.
One sour note for United, however, was the yellow card picked up by Ibrahimovic, which now rules him out of the game against the Gunners on Saturday 19 November.
The talismanic Swede now has five yellows to his name this season, triggering an automatic one-match ban – and ensuring he won’t now play any football until Thursday November 24 at the earliest.
It’s a cruel blow for the player, who defended himself in only a way that Zlatan can after the game.
“It is England. I thought we play rough in England? Every time I play rough I get a yellow card,” he said. “But this is no problem. If I need to make a sacrifice for the team, then I will.”
However, while the player might be privately ruing a ban that will deny him the chance to further restore his reputation – which has taken something of a bashing in recent weeks – it’s unlikely the club will be too disappointed by the enforced absence.
Much has been made the role the Swede plays in the side, but speaking about the player after the match, his manager Jose Mourinho insisted he had not been worried by his lack of goals: “He is not a player who lacks confidence.
“I used to say that a striker that does not score goals and does nothing else is one player less.
“A striker that doesn’t score goals but does everything else is a very important player for the team.
“He was not scoring goals but he was doing everything else. He was working defensively, in the build-up, in the development of the second phase of attack, in the assists.
“He was contributing for the goalkeepers who play against us to be always the man of the match [a reference to the chances he missed against Burnley’s Tom Heaton].
“So he was doing so many things I was not worried, but today we needed goals to win and he got it.”
Nonethess, as one door closes, another one opens, with Zlatan’s absence likely to free up another chance in the side for Wayne Rooney.
The often-chastised player arguably enjoyed his best performance of the season on Sunday – this coming just a matter of days after his best goal for some time in a United jersey, at Fenerbahce – and it won’t have gone unnoticed to Mourinho that the player looks hungrier, sharper and finally free of some of the shackles that have personified his campaign so far.
Perhaps that spell out of the side and time away from the limelight could prove a clever decision by Mourinho. And who knows, without Zlatan’s huge reputation to overshadow him, maybe being the main man (for one match only at least) could benefit the player further….
ODDS ON BRADLEY BEING NEXT MAN OUT OF THE DOOR
Bob Bradley admitted he still did not know his best XI before seeing the Swans stuffed 3-1 at home by a rejuvenated Manchester United on Sunday.
“It’s something I’m trying to figure out every day”, he had said in the pre-match media briefings.
Well, the American now will have a couple more weeks to ponder just how to get a positive result at Everton when the Premier League resumes on November 19. But if he continues to take too long to find out, then the Welsh club will only be heading one way for the rest of the campaign.
The American remains winless in the four Premier League games he has spent in charge of the Swans, and although it’s very early days, the club appears to have gone backwards compared to where they were under the likeable, yet instantly forgettable, Francesco Guidolin.
Often when a new manager comes in there’s a sudden reversal in fortunes, but there’s been little sign of that so far for Swansea and one does wonder if the club’s American owners may soon be getting twitchy fingers again.
Bradley is currently a best-priced 10/1 and fourth favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose their job. Unless there’s an improvement in their next three games – vs Everton, Crystal Palace and then Tottenham – he’d be the man I’d be putting my money on….
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YOU’RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR LAST GAME
Manchester City and Southampton both enjoyed excellent results in Europe in midweek, with Pep Guardiola’s side putting Barcelona to the sword 4-1 and Claude Puel’s men enjoing a red letter day at home to Inter Milan.
With Leicester also making giant strides in the Champions League – a 0-0 draw at FC Copenhagen ensuring they became the first Champions League debutants to start a campaign with four straight clean sheets – all eyes were on the three this weekend to see how they could follow up their performances.
However, with Leicester slumping to a 2-1 home defeat to West Brom – their first Premier League defeat at home in 14 months – and with Saints beaten by the same scoreline at Hull, it proved the old adage that you’re only as a good as your last game.
However, perhaps the biggest surprise came at the Etihad Stadium where Middlesbrough battled back to earn a deserved point; the Teessiders doing something Barcelona couldn’t by claiming a draw at Manchester City. Not often you’ll find yourself saying what Barcelona can’t, Boro can….