Football. Is. Back.

In the middle of last season, I wrote a piece talking about how football without fans was actually entirely fine. The main though process I went through to get to that conclusion was that the majority of supporters watch football on the television anyway, so all that was happening was that 54,000 people or so were having to experience the sport the same way as everyone else. It’s fair to say that I got that entirely wrong. What the weekend just gone has proven is that the presence of supporters in football stadiums helps to elevate the sport above a mere kick-about into something far greater. As poor as Arsenal are as a football club nowadays, do they lose to Brentford if there are no fans in the ground? Are Spurs able to hold on against Manchester City in the way that they did if they aren’t being backed by their supporters? They’re difficult questions to answer, but I suspect that without fans cheering teams on, it just comes down to the technical ability of the players.

Supporters add that x-factor that help to lift matches out of spectacles into living, breathing things. It’s no surprise that Manchester City won the league in the season that was played with the majority of games being behind closed doors, given that they have the most expensively assembled squad in football history and Pep Guardiola is all about having teams that carry out specific roles and functions. Indeed, we saw against Tottenham Hotspur that his sides do not cope well when games become emotionally wrought, losing their heads under pressure. Remove the environment that creates that pressure and they are able to play their technically brilliant football, but put it in place and they will wilt more often than not. There were stories all over the place this weekend, from two of the promoted sides winning their opening games of the campaign for the first time since the mid-1990s through to managers already being under pressure. What does it all mean for Liverpool?

Our Team Is Full Of Greats

Despite spending in the region of a billion pounds during his time in charge of Manchester City, I wonder how many of our players Pep Guardiola would take if he had free rein to do so? Mohamed Salah would be on his list, for sure. We know that he’d love Virgin van Dijk because he tried to sign him. After watching Benjamin Mendy’s performance against Spurs, I think he’d want Kostas Tsimikas, let alone Andy Robertson. In fact, it might be quicker to list the players that the Spaniard wouldn’t want than the ones that he would. In my opinion, Liverpool’s squad is significantly stronger than many give it credit for, getting lost in the lack of domestic trophy challenges of the past few years and the fact that we struggled to cope with a generational injury crisis last time out as ‘proof’ that our squad isn’t good enough and needs countless reinforcements.

Alisson Becker’s performance against Norwich City was one that required very little action from the Brazilian, but when he was called upon he was exceptional. I think he’s probably one of the few players that Guardiola wouldn’t take, but that’s purely because Ederson’s passing style better fits what he’s trying to do at the Etihad; in my mind, there’s no question that we’ve got the better of the two when it comes to the actual goalkeeping side of their game. All of the usual caveats have to be put in place, including the fact that it was ’only’ Norwich City, but we looked in total control of the game from the first minute and that is helped by the fact that we’ve got some of the world’s best players making up the spine of our team. For my liking, too many people have been caught up in Liverpool’s relative lack of action in the transfer market compared to City spending £100 million on Jack Grealish and likely to spend even more on Harry Kane, but that does a talented squad an immense disservice.

The Title Race Is Already Underway

It’s genuinely mad that the fact that Liverpool and Manchester City have set the bar so high means that the title race now begins in gameweek one of a new season, but that is the position that we find ourselves in. Each team has 114 points to play for, but City’s 100-point season and our own 99-point tally means that that allows for just 15 points to go unwon in the battle for title supremacy. With that in mind, City are now down to 12 points, or four defeats over the remainder of the campaign. They are, of course, more than capable of dropping such a minuscule amount of points, given the riches available to the manager to choose from during the season, but the room for error has already been reduced. It’s why the head-to-heads against the top sides are so important and why we can’t afford to give silly points away to the likes of Norwich City or Burnley.

Our match against Chelsea in a couple of weeks will give us a real sense of where both teams are at, whilst Manchester United should be looking to take maximum points from all of the games between now and October. I still maintain that the reason they won’t be involved in the title race is Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but they’re building a squad that even he should be able to get a tune out of. Even so, only Liverpool and City have proven that they can go at a 100-point-per-season rate, which may well be required to win the title this time around. With that in mind, you need to look at the whole package when trying to decide the team most likely to have their captain lift the Premier League trophy high above their head come May, given that both the manager and the players available to them will be key. We know Jürgen Klopp can get more than the sum of its parts out of his teams, so will that be enough in a season of fine margins?

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