Our Liverpool blogger looks at Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League headache, but has positivity in abundance due to Manchester City’s unwanted stat, all in Red Letter.
A fact without any possible dispute: Liverpool’s haul of 37 points from a possible 39 represents a ridiculously good start to the season.
But does our reliance on narrow victory margins and late winners suggest a reversion to the mean is imminent? Will our eight point-lead over Leicester and, probably more importantly, nine-point advantage over Manchester City inevitably start to be reduced?
Of course it could, but why not turn this thing on its head? How about it going the other way? Yes, fellow Reds, there is definite scope for us to widen the gap even further.
An Anfield encounter with Brighton begins a four-match run in the Premier League which then takes in Everton at home, Bournemouth away and Watford at home. Failure to get 12 points from a quartet of teams in the bottom half would frankly be disappointing.
‘Man City not quite themselves’
That’s the first half of the equation I’m offering up in my manifesto of positivity. The second is that, using a very recent thermometer check, Man City are not quite themselves.
Injuries have clearly contributed to their powers being diminished and the latest loss, Sergio Aguero, could be particularly damaging.
I’ve watched the last two Man City games since we beat them 3-1 and some of the fear factor has vanished.
There was a moment against Chelsea, with the visitors 1-0 up, when I started shaking my head at how Frank Lampard’s men were genuinely taking the mick, leaving City chasing shadows. A few moments later, a mistake allowed Kevin de Bruyne to equalise, causing me to have a word with myself.
Fair play to City for fighting back to get the win but the idea that something strange was happening at The Etihad later became supported by empirical evidence.
46.74 – Man City's possession figure of 46.74 today is the lowest recorded by a side managed by Pep Guardiola in any of his 381 top-flight matches in charge. Academic. #MCICHE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 23, 2019
Opta Joe: Man City’s possession figure of 46.74 today is the lowest recorded by a side managed by Pep Guardiola in any of his 381 top-flight matches in charge.
Pass it off as a quirky stat if you like but possession is a huge part of City’s DNA. As impressive as Chelsea were, Pep’s current side are just not as dynamic when they haven’t got the ball. It’s taking longer to get it back. Fernandinho being shunted back to bolster the defence has partly solved one problem but created another.
City followed that Chelsea win with a rather lacklustre 1-1 home draw with Shakhtar. True, that’s all they needed to go through. But they’ve played the Ukrainians on three other occasions since October 2018 and won by an aggregate of 12-0 (3-0, 6-0 and 3-0).
Whenever rival fans wind me up by saying this would be a huge bottle job if Liverpool don’t win the title from here, I’ve retreated into suspicion and hidden behind caveats. That’s partly what 30 years of drought does to you. But it’s also because having watched us rack up a massive 97 points last season and still not got it done, I’m wary that City could do something absurd like string 20 wins together.
Or at least I was. Right now, such a threat appears to have subsided. I simply don’t have the same fears that City have it in them.
11-point lead is possible
While we play Brighton, Everton, Bournemouth and Watford, City’s next four games are away to Newcastle, away to Burnley, home to Manchester United and away to Arsenal.
They lost at Newcastle last season, Burnley will sniff out any weaknesses while Man Utd and Arsenal can certainly do some damage in a one-off game.
It’s hardly into the realms of bias to suggest that City may drop points. And, you do the math, if we get all 12 during that run and they drop just two, our lead over them has extended to 11.
Can Leicester lay down their credentials?
But what of Leicester? After all, they’re our current nearest rivals. Brendan Rodgers is certainly doing a great job and, perhaps surprisingly given how it seemed an afterthought when he was in charge of us, their success is being built on a solid defence.
Leicester’s next four games then: home to Everton, home to Watford, away to Aston Villa, home to Norwich. Hmmm. For now, at least, they have a golden chance to keep within eight of us. But after that, there comes the crunch – away to Man City followed by a Boxing Day fixture against us at the King Power.
It’s an opportunity for them on the one hand to really lay down their credentials. But, if it goes wrong, Leicester could suddenly find themselves a long way back. Again, we have a chance to build a lead over the Foxes that climbs into double digits.
Chelsea? Great to watch but they’re still a work in progress. I’m writing this shortly after their 2-2 draw in Valencia. A nice result but, on another night, they could easily have shipped six or seven. Not for me, Clive.
Champions League headache
In an ideal world, we’d have beaten Napoli on Wednesday night, secured top spot and then given the likes of Adrian, Rhian Brewster and Curtis Jones a taste of Champions League action at RB Salzburg.
To avoid that, Jurgen will have to wheel out the big guns for the final group game and that’s far from ideal given that we’re all set to play nine times in the month of December. A potential midweek off for the first teamers has been lost.
And, of course, there’s double jeopardy. Finishing third relegates us to the Europa League and the inconvenience of Thursday nights. Potentially, not a good thing for our title hopes.
Then again, we’re the Champions of Europe and they’re some team from Austria so, y’know, let’s keep this in perspective. This week’s column is all about positivity, right.
While Graham Potter has already done enough for Brighton to give him a contract extension, I’m not unhappy that the Seagulls are the visitors to Anfield this weekend.
Despite all the Premier League victories, the 1-1 home draw with Napoli rather shone a light on our lack of real fluidity at the moment.
If ultra-organised Sheffield United were the visitors, that could have been a problem. However, Brighton just seem to wheel out their forward-looking football wherever they go. And, in that sense, they should play into our hands.
They’ve lost 4-0 at Man City, 2-0 at Chelsea and 3-1 at Man Utd so, despite creating chances, it’s not really done them any favours.
Brighton are no Napoli (our new bogey team) and we just seem more intense in the Premier League than we do in the Champions League this season.
Time to kick on and, remarkably, hit the 40-point mark whilst still in the month of November. Forget just having a healthy lead, let’s build it into a full-blown chasm.