Sunday, 1 September 2013

Top of the League? You’re having a laugh….

Finally. After three consecutive 2-1 defeats at the hands of our bitter rivals Manchester United, we have beaten them. Admittedly United were nowhere near their form of last season (blame Moyes for that one- they look a different side now Ferguson has left), but Liverpool still had to work hard and play well to secure the victory. The win saw us go top of the league, having secured maximum points from our opening three games. Due to this, and to the excellent football we are producing, optimism amongst fans is high, but how far up the league can we realistically expect Liverpool to finish this season?

Most non-LFC fans seem to think that Liverpool have an outside chance of snatching 4th, but that is the highest we could possibly hope for. Theoretically, this makes some sense. After all, player for player, there is no questioning that Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham have stronger squads than ours. In a game of Top Trumps, Liverpool’s players would surely lose out to these clubs (and debatably to United and Arsenal as well), unless you have the luck to draw Coutinho from your deck when your opponent possesses the Milner card. The fact is, having not been in the Champions League since 2009/10, we haven’t been able to attract the top players for some time now, and as such our squad, on paper at least, simply is not as strong as those of our direct rivals.

However, though it is a cliché, the game is not played on paper. If all of Tottenham’s new players were immediately able to gel with each other and with the rest of the team, then they could most certainly challenge for the title. As it is, they needed to rely on debatable penalty decisions to win them their games against Crystal Palace and Swansea, and today lost 1-0 to Arsenal, because the team are not performing well as a group. Liverpool, on the other hand, have looked like a very tightly-knit unit this season. Their chemistry on and off the pitch has been wonderful; I don’t recall ever seeing a Liverpool team more in tune with one another. This is, in part, down to the relatively small amount of change the club has undergone in the down-season in comparison with the big clubs around us. Out of the top 7 from last season, only Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have retained the same managers. As such, until all the other teams are able to settle down and adapt to their new managers (or, in Spurs’ case, adapt to fit in a whole host of new players), Liverpool may well have the edge over them.

Saying this, doing business in the transfer market is by no means a bad thing. It is simply that there needs to be a balance. Spurs have brought in too many players for their starting 11 at once to be able to get results in the short term, but as the season progresses they will most likely become a force to be reckoned with. Arsenal, on the other hand, though not destabilised by change, are being left behind in terms of squad depth by not signing anyone (unless you count free transfers Flamini and Sanogo). Indeed, their lack of depth is already troubling them, as they have been plagued by injuries to multiple players recently.  Liverpool have struck a happy medium, in that they have brought in a couple of players who have made it immediately to the first team, some others to bulk out the squad in case of injury, and some young talents who have potential to make it to the first team in the future. The immediate changes to the starting XI are not so drastic that they throw us off course; they only serve to strengthen us.  As we are the only club from last season’s top 7 to achieve that fine balance, except perhaps Chelsea, we most certainly have the upper hand on our rivals.

So, bearing all of that in mind, where do I think we can finish? Chelsea suffer the least out of the clubs that have made managerial changes, as Mourinho has been at the club before and knows how things work. Most of the players already know him and his style, so there is little adaptation to do. They have also done good business in the transfer market: players such as Willian and Samuel Eto’o are likely to start on a fairly regular basis, whilst Van Ginkel and Atsu are great squad players. Due to this, I don’t think we can realistically hope to finish above Chelsea. Manchester City are another we will struggle to overcome, as despite the vast amount of money spent at the club this summer, the emphasis has been on quality rather than quantity. Though they have a new manager, it would be a tall order to compete with the sheer quality and depth that City possess. Other than that, I don’t think there is any team in the Premier League that Liverpool cannot hope to finish above. Arsenal have not made anywhere near enough additions to their squad, Tottenham are still reeling after undergoing a squad overhaul, and Manchester United’s squad, which wasn’t that strong in the first place, is now under the guidance of a new manager: this is already taking its toll on them, as they have only managed 4 points from their first 3 games.

In conclusion, Chelsea and Manchester City are a cut above the rest, and barring too many more slip-ups against clubs such as Cardiff they should be expected to occupy the top two slots come the end of the season. From 3rd to 6th there is  very little in it, and Liverpool, if all goes well, will be able to capitalise on the shaky starts their rivals are having and take 3rd place. It’s optimistic, but it’s also realistic. Let’s hope they can continue their excellent start to the season, and go on to achieve what they are capable of.
-James Martin
Follow me @JamesMartin013

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