Like It Or Not, The Title Race Has Already Started

There was something hugely infuriating about Saturday’s match. Yes, the Reds were rubbish and, in my opinion at least, the decision for the penalty was appalling, but more than that, I was annoyed that I needed to invest so much into the outcome so early on in the campaign. Title races aren’t supposed to begin with the first kick of a ball. In seasons gone by, you wouldn’t even think about trying to win the Premier League until February or March time. In days of yore, the papers didn’t print the league table until well into the season, such is the extent to which the early games in the campaign were considered to be irrelevant. Of course, in many ways it is the past that was wrong. Whilst no one wins the title in the first game week, the result in game week one is just as important as that of game week 38. Not being able to win the title early on isn’t the same as the results mattering, given that every team has 114 points to play for before a ball is kicked.

We can all choose our own stress levels for the season ahead, largely by refusing to be drawn into the conversation around everything that Manchester City do. The problem is that we will all naturally be stressed by Liverpool’s performances, especially when the Reds perform as poorly as they did for the majority of Saturday afternoon’s match. Fulham were good value for their point and we shouldn’t take anything away from them, but when all is said and done we are talking about a newly promoted team against a side that is hoping to rack up close. To 100 points. The match started as I expected it to, with Fulham putting in a lot of hard work in terms of running, pressing and closing us down. It felt like a ‘can’t keep this up for 90 minutes’ scenario, provided we didn’t give them anything to cling on to. When we immediately gave them something to cling on to, therefore, it always felt like it was going to be a long afternoon. The problem is, it’s also going to be a long season.

Two Point Down Already

It is absolutely ludicrous that we need to think about the points differential between us and Manchester City so soon in a Premier League season. Yet we know that they dropped points just nine times last time out. That means that we’ve already thrown away one of the chances that we have to do better than them, considering the fact that we only dropped points ten times during the 2021-2022 campaign. The thing that killed us then was draws, especially those against silly teams. Whilst draws with Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur might be frustrating, they’re nothing to be ashamed of. Dropped points to newly-promoted Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion after we were 2-0 up against them at home, however, need to be flagged up as an area for improvement. The 1-0 loss to Leicester City is another area that we can surely be better at this time around, but the wiggle room that we have if we hope to win the title has diminished after our first match.

During Manchester United’s first four title winning seasons under Alex Ferguson, they lost six, four, six and five times. Indeed, the fewest number of times that United lost when winning the title was three, but even then they drew 13 times. The point being, the game has changed thanks to what City and Liverpool have been doing in recent seasons. It is barely the same sport, such is the extent to which there is no room for slip ups. For Liverpool, the draw was bad, but the fact that we played so poorly is what concerns me the most. It also isn’t just that we failed to get going, but that we struggled to adjust. Even after we made changes, things carried on in much the same vein. It made little sense after we played so genuinely well for the duration of the Community Shield. Was it a case of Liverpool failing to adjust their expectations for the opposition, feeling as though we’d get the three points just for turning up? If so, it as an attitude that we can’t see again.

An Ominous Start For City

I, along with many others, felt as though West Ham had the potential to be a sticky opening fixture for Manchester City. The London club took two points off them last season at the London Stadium, so the fact that Pep Guardiola’s side looked to be quite off the pace when we defeated them in the Community Shield gave me some hope. What Liverpool needed to do, first and foremost, was put them under pressure from the off. We will obviously never know, but the fact that we not only didn’t put them under pressure but did the footballing equivalent of sending them a nice basket of warm muffins for their first day back at work meant that they could play with more freedom than is ideal. Though we’re all delighted that Darwin Núñez looks so settled so quickly, Guardiola certainly won’t be complaining about the fact that Erling Haaland has two goals to his name so early on in the campaign. Bar a defeat, it was the worst possible start to the season for us.

I am actually of the belief that City will struggle during this campaign. I am aware of how mad that sounds, but their squad is a lot smaller than you’d think and it will only take a couple of injuries for them to begin to look somewhat threadbare. Add in the fact that I think that Guardiola would give one of his organs to win the Champions League and I think that you will begin to see their focus shift as Europe comes into play. There is also the fact that City have more players heading off to the World Cup than we do, so the opportunity is there for us to cope well with the post-winter disruption. Unfortunately, though, if we insist on continuing to be so sloppy at the start of matches, Guardiola’s team might have enough of a cushion to mean that it becomes an irrelevance. Learn our lesson from Saturday and we should be ok. Play like we did against Fulham in other matches that we ‘should’ win, though, and we can kiss any hopes of a title goodbye just weeks into the campaign.

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