As Liverpool put their seventh unanswered goal past Crystal Palace on Saturday — a stunning Mo Salah effort, no less — many fans leapt to the same conclusion. Put a fork in this Premier League title race, because it is done. No one can come close to the incumbent champions.
This past weekend has been regarded by some as a pivotal point in the title race. Liverpool’s stunning win at Selhurst Park came just days after they put fellow contenders Tottenham to the sword at Anfield. Previously, Spurs had been undefeated since the opening day of the season, and topped the table for four consecutive matchweeks. Two losses in a week now puts them in sixth place.
Meanwhile, Manchester City are deemed to be a shadow of their former selves, while Manchester United are still managed by a “Norwegian PE teacher” in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
With all that in mind, it’s little wonder that many believe Liverpool will inevitably start to pull away in the quest to keep the big trophy on Merseyside.
Calling the race with only one third of the games played, however, is a fool’s errand. Not only do we stand on the precipice of the annual winter fixture pileup — a traditional stumbling block for all title-chasing teams — but we do so in an extraordinary year.
The Premier League started a month late, teams must play more games in less time, and Liverpool are unlikely to be supported by the spine-tingling volume of a packed Anfield any time soon. Nothing is certain in this strange season.
Liverpool may have looked unbeatable at Crystal Palace, but those with slightly longer memories will note that they were lucky to earn a point at relegation-threatened Fulham the previous week. Less than a month ago, Liverpool could only muster a draw at Brighton. October may feel like it happened years ago, but that was when the Reds were humiliated by a 7-2 scoreline at Aston Villa.
The point is: Liverpool have already suffered a rocky road in this campaign, and every other potential title contender has also suffered a dip at some point.
Jurgen Klopp, a man who once blamed the wind for a Merseyside Derby draw, has raged about kickoff times as his squad has suffered serious injuries. The likes of Virgil Van Dijk, James Milner, Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcantara and Joe Gomez are sidelined. A style of play that relies on a high-energy press will inevitably cause more issues as the fixtures pile up. Over the festive period, Liverpool face four games in 13 days — and the games will keep coming thick and fast thereafter as they fight on four fronts.
Liverpool are the bookies’ favorites by a significant margin: BetMGM prices their title win at -110, while current second-place side Leicester are at a very long +3300. However, in a season that has already thrown its fair share of curveballs, this title race remains wide open.
To prove it, Yahoo Soccer can make a strong case for five other contenders for this year’s title.
The mention of Pep Guardiola’s side as title chancers this season may raise an eyebrow, but BetMGM still place them as second favorites (at +225). City may pale in comparison to their magnificent 2017-18 pomp, but they are unbeaten in over a month and have earned a 9-1 aggregate score in the five games over that period, which includes four clean sheets.
Man City have lacked firepower, but the hopeful return of Sergio Aguero — and bottomless pockets to rectify the situation in January — means they have the potential to make up ground.
“Man City will be right there at the end of the year, they'll be knocking on the door, they'll be close,” Harry Redknapp said this week. What more proof do you need than ‘Arry’s seal of approval?
The Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Opinion Rollercoaster™ has provided a wild ride this season. One second, the Norwegian is a clueless fraud steering his team into the Europa League, the next he is a mastermind outwitting Marcelo Bielsa in a thrilling game of tactical 4D chess.
Whatever way you look at it, United are only five points behind Liverpool with a game in hand. They are capable of exciting attacking soccer, their defense is improving, and they appear to be growing in confidence each week.
Solskjaer’s side have some tricky opponents on the horizon (a trip to Leicester awaits on Boxing Day and they will go to Anfield early in the New Year), but they cannot be discounted with 24 rounds left to play.
With five league losses on the books already, it’s surprising to see Leicester in second place. However, only Liverpool can match their nine wins so far, and Brendan Rodgers’ team must be in the conversation.
The Foxes are a well-drilled counter attacking side, who soundly beat Tottenham at their own game at the weekend. They boast several world-class players (Wilfred Ndidi, for example, would walk into most top sides) and they boast the rare commodity of a proven out-and-out striker in Jamie Vardy.
As a side whose trophy cabinet has been gathering dust since 2008, Spurs fans have cautiously started to express some optimism. The controversial appointment of Jose Mourinho has been fully vindicated and they have, until the last week, looked like genuine contenders.
With two losses in less than a week, Spurs have damaged their credentials, but they have the time and the weapons to make up the ground. In fact, with Fulham, Aston Villa and Sheffield United coming up in the next five matches, they could make up that ground very soon.
Mourinho’s side are defensively disciplined (apart from Serge Aurier’s recent NFL-style tackle to concede a penalty to Leicester) and boast some truly incredible counter attacking firepower in Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane.
The Portuguese manager is a proven winner who always performs well in his second season at a club, and his side have made incredible progress. If Kane and Son can avoid injury issues, Spurs can remain in contention until the spring.
The Blues have not played a major role in the title contention conversation this season, but they sit the same distance from Liverpool as Tottenham right now.
Frank Lampard’s side have made great strides to addressing their defensive issues and they boast the league’s best squad depth in terms of attacking options. In a season where injuries will be highly problematic for top teams, Chelsea’s deep bench could be the difference-maker.
Lampard has played down title talk thus far, but the Blues face a beleaguered Arsenal on Boxing Day, and Aston Villa, Fulham and Burnley during the difficult festive period. They are certainly a wildcard pick for the title, but there is no reason to discount them at this stage.
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