Why Aren't Liverpool Title Challengers?

On a weekend when just about everybody else around them dropped points, why should Liverpool's title hopes be dismissed? David Moyes is a loser, of course...

Last Updated: 09/12/13 at 13:45 Post Comment

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Winners

Liverpool

Most people seem fairly convinced that this won't last. This can't last. And with good reason.

Recent history, for one thing, tells us that Liverpool are not serious title contenders, despite being second in the league, five points behind the leaders, level with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, ahead of Manchester City and some eight points in front of Manchester United.

The size of their squad is another, with Brendan Rodgers himself pointing out that they are not strong enough to cope with the loss of their best players. With Steven Gerrard now out for an indeterminate number of weeks with a hamstring twang, add him to Daniel Sturridge as key players that will probably be missing for the Christmas period, and while Gerrard is not the force and Liverpool's only hope that he once was, observers who were paying closer attention than I to their 4-1 win over West Ham noted that they lost a significant amount of control in midfield after he went off.

And yet, why not? Why not put them down as genuine title contenders? Liverpool are currently a full 11 points better off than they were at this stage last season. On a weekend when Manchester City were dropping points at Southampton and Chelsea were losing to Stoke, Rodgers' side were wiping the floor with West Ham. Sure, their fixtures thus far have been relatively friendly, but blips against Hull and Southampton aside, they have dealt with almost everyone else pretty emphatically. Losing to this iteration of Arsenal is not exactly a sign that Liverpool cannot challenge, and everyone else is so unpredictable that it would be premature to write them off.

Of course, the sizeable fly in Liverpool's title ointment (a vaguely unpleasant image, but I make no apologies for it) is that injuries to Gerrard and Sturridge have come at a bad time, with a very tough run of fixtures coming up. In their next four games they face Spurs, Manchester City and Chelsea, all away, with the brief respite of a home game against Cardiff somewhere in the middle.

The next few weeks will decide whether Liverpool can stay where they are, or whether they will fade back into the pack.


Arsenal
It is perhaps a mark of how much Arsenal have improved this season that Arsene Wenger sounded disappointed to be only five points clear at the top of the table. Of course, a draw against Everton after taking the lead in the 80th minute is rather disappointing, but the Toffees were arguably the most impressive side to visit the Emirates this season.

That said, caution must of course be applied. Arsenal's fixture list hasn't been the toughest, with their significant wins coming against Spurs and Liverpool, to which caveats could be applied, and they lost to Manchester United, about whom you'll read more shortly.

Their next two games could provide a more realistic assessment of their title chances, as they face Manchester City then Chelsea, sandwiching the crucial Champions League game against Napoli. Arsenal only need to avoid a three-goal defeat in that one to go through but, as it's Napoli that need to inflict that scoreline, you can be sure that it will be a tough night for Wenger's side.

"We have shown consistency until now and an absolutely fantastic attitude. That's why we are different to last season," said Wenger after the game. Quite so, Arsene.


Laurent Koscielny
In a rare piece of witchcraft known as 'analysis', Match of the Day 2 illustrated pretty well how Koscielny often just appears, magically, where the ball is, seemingly before anyone has realised there is a ball at all.

Anticipation is an underrated quality in football, possibly because in this increasingly stats-reliant world it is quite difficult to quantify, but Koscielny's is frequently astonishing. Indeed, it's probably only his unfortunate penchant for the clumsy, costly error that means he isn't considered one of the best defenders in Europe.


Roberto Martinez
Last season many got rather excited about Everton's uncharacteristically strong start to the season. They beat Manchester United and drew with Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in their opening 15 games, and everyone was terribly pleased with themselves.

This season, from the same amount of games, they have five more points and are a point and a place shy of the Champions League spots.

How's that for a transition?


Ross Barkley
He really does look like the real thing, doesn't he?

While there are obvious flaws in his game, and his final pass needs work, Barkley carries the air of a player who will go far. It's rare to see such a touch, assurance and awareness of space, combined with such strength, at such an early age.

"When I see Barkley, I see bits of Ballack and bits of Gazza, although I can guarantee you that he is quite unique," Martínez said after the game.

"He has incredible balance with both feet, he is really strong and really powerful. He is developing an incredible awareness. He is someone that you can compare to any other nation...I mean the young Brazilians, Dutch and Spanish players. He has a gift and that talent."

Many have used Barkley's emergence this season as another stick with which to beat David Moyes, but in fact Neil Warnock should be the one on the receiving end of that particular thrashing. Barkley joined Leeds on loan last season and made three starts in a month, before being sent back to Everton after Warnock said he "couldn't guarantee playing him".

It's perhaps not a massive surprise that Warnock is currently out of work.

*
Newcastle
Five wins in the last six is impressive. When you consider that three of those wins were against Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United...well, that's even more impressive.

Sarah Winterburn wrote about giving Alan Pardew some credit for their performances here, and there should be more where that came from. Newcastle were excellent in defence and incisive on the counter-attack, taking chances that United themselves spurned.

"This team were asked to play a very different way and they answered that," said Pardew.

"We can change our tactics and win. We can feel confident to do that. And that makes us dangerous."


Norwich
Quite a way to bounce back from a 5-1 humping by Luis Suarez.

Indeed, it should speak well of Chris Hughton's side that this is the second time they have responded to a sound thrashing, six-of-the-best, trousers down, by winning the next game. After the 7-0 hiding at Manchester City in November, they responded by beating West Ham a week later. It might be considered a bad thing that they apparently require a rather sound boot in the trousers to stumble into action, but it is at least better than the alternative.

While they are still a mere four points from the bottom three and most definitely have the capacity to be profoundly rubbish, this resilience should ensure that they stay clear of the most serious mischief this season.


Rene Meulensteen
Mr Meulensteen seems to have a rather high opinion of himself. Winning his second game in charge of Fulham will not help stymie that self-regard at all, but the Cottagers will of course not care if Meulensteen's ego manages to get them out of the relegation zone.

While Paul Lambert may have bleated semi-justifiably about the officiating at Craven Cottage, Fulham undoubtedly deserved their win, even if it was achieved with a side with an average age over 31 - the first time that 'feat' has been achieved this season, according to Opta.

At the very least, Meulensteen seems to be trying a few different ideas. "We've tried different formations since he's took charge," said Scott 'Scotty' Parker after the game. After all, something had to change, and if experimentation keeps Fulham up, then all hail King Rene.


Dani Osvaldo
His has been a frustrating and inconsistent time at St Mary's so far, but by gosh what a goal, from the crunching but perfectly timed tackle by Jose Fonte that started the move off, to Osvaldo's dance around the Manchester City defence and beautiful curled finish.


Marouane Chamakh
He looks like a different player. All part of the magic dust sprinkled over his new side by Tony Pulis and his magic hat.


Crystal Palace
Three wins in four games. I'm telling you, Tony Pulis is magic.


Andre Schurrle
Schurrle's signing was described by someone or other on some website or other as one of the biggest wastes of time and money that the transfer market has ever seen. Six starts, three goals, and he was the width of a Stoke crossbar away from a hat-trick on Saturday.


Oussama Assaidi
Who was he throwing his shirt at when he scored the winner against Chelsea? If it was Mark Hughes, that might a risky strategy if he wants to play more. Still, good goal.


Tottenham
Logic, eh? When Andre Villas-Boas named his team to face Sunderland, it looked like all the pressure had finally got to him and he had lost his mind. While he had injuries to deal with, it looked like he had thrown a bunch of names up in the air and whichever ones landed on the team sheet were sent onto the pitch.

But, it worked, and Tottenham should really have won more comfortably than 2-1.

Of course, that itself does suggest an area of concern - for much of the second half, it looked like a classic 'Should have killed them off...oh look they've scored' performance, with chance after chance wasted due to uncertainty, or poor finishing, or both.

Still, three points is three points, and Villas-Boas will greedily gather any of those up at the moment.


Sandro
Look at his hat! Just look at his hat! And scarf, for that matter.


Losers


David Moyes
Ha! You thought there couldn't possibly be anything else to say about David Moyes, didn't you? Naive.

There was a shot of Moyes immediately after Newcastle scored on Saturday when he looked like a little, confused boy, unsure what to do and utterly lost. Moyes may have been lumbered with a sub-standard and lop-sided squad, but sub-standard and lop-sided squads have won league titles before. This one, for example. Indeed, with the additions of Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha, with no significant departures from the playing staff, it's actually stronger.

Moyes didn't exactly do himself any favours by pointing this out after the game.

"We've got roughly the same squad that was champions last year and we've not changed an awful lot in that period," Moyes said.

"We can play better, but there were a lot of games last year where Manchester United didn't play particularly well and maybe, in a game like that, sneaked it with a goal."

Of course, Moyes simply brought attention to the one big thing that has changed at Old Trafford, thus inviting everyone to draw their own conclusions as to why they're ninth, having dropped more points than they've won.

He was certainly quite confident that the United support would understand that all this is terribly tough and so forth, claiming they understand that this is a transitional year and that not everything goes right in transitional years.

Well, sure, that's true, but as has been pointed out, Roberto Martinez seems to be dealing with his own transition pretty well, and as Ron Atkinson (of all people) said at the weekend, when you're a manager of a club as vast as Manchester United, you're not really allowed transitional years. United are in serious danger of missing out on the Champions League, never mind the league title, and are only a point closer to the top of the table than they are to the bottom.

Perhaps the most concerning thing for United fans is that they really didn't create anything of note after Newcastle scored on Saturday. They had two clear opportunities in the 29 minutes after Yohan Cabaye scored - one was Robin van Persie's disallowed goal, the other a free-kick that flashed across goal by Van Persie. Two set-pieces to show for half an hour of pressure. Again, we return to the probably unfair Ferguson comparison, but had the old man still been in charge, Tim Krul's goal would have been under siege, the footballing equivalent of the bit in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when the Celts attack and the Sheriff's men start firing flaming arrows at the outlaws' treehouses. It was on telly last night.

"I tried to chuck the kitchen sink at it," claimed Moyes. Really? The kitchen sink is still attached to the wall, David.

The good news for Moyes is that United now have a relatively friendly run of games, facing Aston Villa, West Ham, Hull then Norwich, but the bad news is that they now not only have to win all of those games, but win them convincingly.

We'll leave the last word to Alan Pardew, who perhaps unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally given the two men have a 'history', apparently stretching back to a gloriously petty episode when they were managing Preston and Reading, and Moyes' North End side were prevented from warming up on the Madejski Stadium pitch for some reason) signalled a low point in Moyes' tenure/career by saying:

"I know we won't get the headlines because poor old United and David have had a tough day."

Patronised and pitied by Alan Pardew. Man, that's rough.


West Ham
Last week in Big Weekend I wondered whether Sam Allardyce would have to drop Kevin Nolan, such have been the performances of his captain. Luckily for him, that decision has been taken out of his hands by Nolan's spiteful assault on Jordan Henderson's calf.

The stories are growing louder about Allardyce's increasingly perilous position, as they slipped to within goal difference of the relegation zone following the shellacking at the hands of Liverpool. According to The Daily Telegraph, Allardyce's future may well hang on how well they do in their next game, which is against Sunderland. Yowsers, that one will not be pretty.

The problem for the two Davids and Karren Brady is that they have invested so much - faith, money, time - in creating a side in Allardyce's image, that making a change is not going to be easy. Sam asked for a big bruising centre-forward, and they got him. Sam asked for 17 wingers to cross for that big bruising centre-forward, and they got them. Sam asked for a couple of old friends to join him, and lo - Nolan and Jussi Jaaskelainen arrived.

The decision to sack a manager is of course not just one decision - it's firstly whether the current guy is no good, and secondly whether there is anybody that could realistically do a better job. There are circumstances when the answer to the first part is so emphatic that the second part is rather moot (when anyone will be better than that guy), but West Ham haven't reached that point just yet.

However, the word is that Sullivan, Gold and Brady are mindful of their decision to stick with Avram Grant in 2010/11, where they placed faith in Avram Grant, only for that faith to be rewarded with relegation. Given their wage bill, and the impending move to that big stadium next to an even bigger shopping centre somewhere in east London, relegation is not something they can afford to let happen.


Manchester City
More points dropped on the road. The last time City won back-to-back away games in the Premier League was December last year, when they beat Wigan then Newcastle, which was then followed by their annual 1-0 defeat at Sunderland.

"I think it is a good point for us because we didn't play better than Southampton," Manuel Pellegrini said after the game.

"Southampton played very well also. I think it was a very close game for both teams. We had one or two other chances and so did they to score, so I think it was a very logical result."

Should the manager of Manchester City be happy with a draw away at Southampton, no matter how well they are playing at the moment? Especially since the Saints' recent form isn't exactly scintillating - they had lost their previous three games, to Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa.

City have won just twice away from the Etihad this season, putting them in tenth place of the away league table. It hardly needs saying that for a team in the title race, this is not good enough.

It's a good job their next away game, at Bayern Munich, doesn't really matter.


Joe Hart
Hart will play in the Allianz Arena, which ostensibly looks like a good chance for him, an opportunity to impress and possibly get his place in the team back. But when you consider that Pellegrini has already said he will rest half his team, thus Hart's level of protection falls, it suddenly looks like a thankless task.

Bayern won 7-0 at the weekend. All the best, Joe.


Sunderland
The line between being honest and throwing your team under the bus is a very, very fine one, and one that Paolo Di Canio either didn't recognise or delighted in dancing over.

However, Gus Poyet seemed to get it about right in his assessment of Sunderland's squad and season so far.

"At the moment, we are not good enough," he said. "Sometimes being honest doesn't mean that you are negative. I am not, I am very positive. I am realistic and at the moment, that's what we are.

"We want to keep going, yes. The desire, the fighting, the spirit - the players are trying their best. At the moment, it's not enough, so we will see how we are going to change.

While their performance against Spurs was creditable, Sunderland are now stone bottom of the Premier League, five points from safety and with Crystal Palace and Fulham, the other two seemingly damned and doomed teams improving and even winning, the immediate future looks a little grim.

"At the moment, I see too many players of the opposition playing against us probably their best games of the season," continued Poyet.

"Do you think that that's a coincidence as well? You have to be very naive to think that."

Poyet had better hope that 'telling it like it is' works, otherwise there is (more) serious trouble ahead.


Christian Benteke
Ten hours and 40 minutes without a Premier League goal now for the big Belgian. Paul Lambert was confident that the goals will come for Benteke, but he did little to justify his recall to the team at Fulham.


Petr Cech
On the quiet, Cech is having a bit of a stinker this season, to use a technical term. His flap at a cross for Stoke's opening goal wasn't the first time an error of his has led to Chelsea conceding of late, with the West Brom game in November springing to mind.

Also, he has only kept four clean sheets this season. One was on the opening day against Hull, one against Manchester United when the teams appeared to have come to some sort of Anschluss game-esque pact not to shoot, one was against Fulham, proud owners of 14 goals from their 15 league games, and the other against West Ham, who don't have any strikers.

Jose Mourinho pointed to individual mistakes (of course it wasn't his fault, of course it wasn't), but didn't name names. One imagines he was merely saving his goalkeeper the embarrassment.


Cardiff
That's one win in the last nine, of which five have been lost. Some of those defeats (Arsenal, Chelsea) have been excusable, but losing to Crystal Palace is not. The point against Manchester Untied hinted that there are some causes for optimism, but six points from an available 27 is relegation form.

Nick Miller - not wearing a magic hat on Twitter.

* Miller forgot to put Newcastle in at first. He feels silly.

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I

may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Mike_Christie
Please Stop Telling Us What To Think

H

ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

TheWhiz
Wenger hails important win

I

s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

redbornandbred
De Gea's Europa League target

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