A Title 6-Pointer?

When we played Chelsea before the first international break, I was extremely annoyed with Liverpool for not taking advantage of the extra man that we had over the London club. Yes, they are defensively excellent under Thomas Tuchel and the sending off coming just before half-time meant that the German had the chance to re—organise his troops, but we really should have taken advantage of the extra man. My annoyance largely came from the fact that we played right into Chelsea’s hands and made decision after decision that will have delighted their defence, barely asking any questions of them. At the time, I felt as though Chelsea would be the team to finish above if you want to win the title this season, but now I’m not so sure. Manchester City’s 1-0 win over them has been followed up by another loss to Juventus, courtesy of the same scoreline. Whilst Juventus are a good team historically, a quick look at their performances this season suggest they’re not exactly tearing things apart in Serie A to scare anyone decent.

As a result, I’ve adjusted my expectations slightly and I now wonder whether it will once again prove to be a shootout between us and Manchester City for the title. Our draw with Brentford doesn’t exactly scream ‘title-challengers’, but I do think that the London club will pose more than a few problems for other sides aiming to finish at the top before the campaign is over. It will most likely prove to be two points dropped, but could also end up as one point gained come the end of the season. Our performance against a very good Porto side was enough to make Liverpool fans salivate, whilst City huffed and puffed against Paris Saint-Germain before ultimately losing 2-0. When you consider that they didn’t have their first shot on target against Southampton until the 90th minute when they played the Saints recently, it suggests that all is not tickety-boo for Pep Guardiola’s side. I think most of the big teams will blow the majority of the ‘smaller’ opponents away over the course of the campaign, so might winning the mini-league prove all-important?

The Mini-League Might Dictate The Title’s Destination

Right now, I’m not entirely sure which clubs make up the mini-league. In the past it has been the ‘Big Six’ of Liverpool, the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. The performances of the latter two sides so far might well suggest that it’s back to being a chase for four places involving four teams, with each of them jostling for position. Whilst Evertonians might like to dream that they can challenge the established order and Leicester City can play good football under Brendan Rodgers, I’d be surprised if anyone managed to get into the Top Four ahead of us, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Despite finishing second last season, I’d be most worried if I was a United fan, given the extent to which Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is not a manager that deserves to be anywhere near a top club. If you’re not sure whether I’m right about that then ask yourself this: if all four managers of the four teams I’m talking about left their posts tomorrow, who would be the last one to find gainful employment at a top side?

United have been playing like the players know they need to get Ole the boot recently, so perhaps they’ll bring in a decent manager before Christmas and mount a genuine title challenge. Unless that happens, however, I’m not too worried about the Red Devils. They might well take points off the teams that will actually be involved in the title race, though, much as Spurs might do the same thing. It is why I think the winner of the mini-league might end up being the team that takes the title home with them. Given the ability of the likes of us, City and Chelsea to steam-roller the ‘smaller’ sides, those games between the rivals could prove to be crucial. We only have two chances to take points from Man City and directly influence the outcome of their season, so we need to do our best to impose ourselves on them when we can. They’re coming to our place, where they have a poor record, so we really need to ensure that we don’t make the same mistake that we did against Chelsea and put them to the sword every time that we attack.

If It’s Us Versus Them, Let’s Make Sure It’s Us

We all remember the image of Pep Guardiola screaming into the sky, brandishing two fingers into the air and bemoaning the fortune of his side. He is a man who relishes control, meaning that when control is taken away from him he’s never too sure how to react. Anfield should be feral on Sunday, welcoming the defending champions to the ground at a time when we want to humiliate them. A win would not only allow us to put a little bit of distance between us and them but it would also have Guardiola once again feeling as though the power of Anfield is something that he can’t compete against. Should we come up against them in the latter stages of the Champions League, that could be a psychological advantage the likes of which money can’t buy. Let’s be clear about something: if the battle for supremacy ends up being about us against Manchester City, I want us to get as many slight advantages of the sports-washing side as we possibly can. City may have won at an empty Anfield, but can they do it when 54,000 are screaming for blood?

It might well end up being a season of fine margins. Our draw at Brentford might prove to be costly, just as City’s loss to Spurs could be. I’m not convinced right now that the eventual title winners are going to run away with it at any point and I’d be amazed if 90+ points are required to win the crown. Consequently, taking points off Pep Guardiola’s team when we can will perhaps sow another seed of doubt into the Spaniard’s mind about whether they’ll be able to put a run of wins together like they have in the past, or whether it’s going to be another campaign like the 2019-2020 one, when Liverpool are just too good. We made a mistake not taking advantage of Chelsea being without a man during the second-half of our clash with them, so we need to make sure that we don’t drop points that are there to be won this time around. Just as a win for us will give us a boost and harm City’s mentality, so will the reverse be true. If it’s to be a battle between us and them for supremacy, I want us to do everything we can to make sure that it’s us coming out on top.

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