Liverpool’s poor form this season has been well documented, form that is in complete contrast to last season where they rode the crest of a wave of confidence all season long to finish a scant two points behind champions Manchester City.
Manchester United meanwhile, have all but emptied their coffers to assemble a team capable of replicating the sort of form last enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson. Ramadal Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Luke Shaw were all added to a vastly talented, but underperforming Old Trafford outfit that is now beginning to show what they are capable of.
Champions Manchester City, however have hardly hit their stride, but one gets the feeling that it is only a matter of time before they do. Fellow title chasers, Chelsea on the other hand are absolutely living up to their preseason billing as serious title protagonists with a near-perfect record of five wins and a tough draw from their six matches so far.
Fair as it may be to say that City should have won the game against Chelsea at the Etihad, but Jose Mourinho’s side have performed admirably enough in their other fixtures to lead the chasing pack.
Coming back to Liverpool and their desperate form so far this campaign, there are a number of theories as to why that may be, with most of them pointing to the absence of Luis Suarez. Naturally, his absence plays a role in how their season has played out so far, particularly the void left by his tireless running on and off the ball, but I suspect there’s more to it.
Following their unprecedented success in the last league season, I think Liverpool’s problems for the moment are as follows:
- There is no adequate replacement for Suarez as his aforementioned running and ability to finish are sorely missed
- With all the money spent on fresh talent in the off season, Brendan Rodgers could hardly have left them to warm the bench while fielding the previous season’s squad
- There simply is no other way of having the new players adapt to English footy other than having them take the field regularly
- They may have taken last season’s outstanding form for granted, and the results of late have brought them back down to earth with a crash, to the point where their confidence has been virtually torpedoed
To expand on these, and hopefully without laboring the point, Suarez is one of the top three players in the world and Liverpool were very fortunate indeed to have had a player of his quality in their ranks. They’ve since sought to fill the void of his absence with sheer depth, but it hasn’t yet borne fruit as a) the new players have to learn to adapt to the pace of the English game, and b) they’ll need time to gel together as a team. Furthermore, none of the current crop have Suarez’s movement or finishing ability, and that’s something instinctive and cannot really be taught. It has to come from within, and that’s what sets Suarez, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo apart from the rest.
The Reds are without a win in three league matches, and even their Cup victories over Middlesbrough and Ludogorets left much to be desired. Their latest defeat to FC Basel and their lethargic approach to that game would have done little to boost team morale. But I do have faith that Brendan Rodgers will hoist them from their current slump, though he will need time and one of the rarest and most precious of league commodities: a fully fit team to call upon.
Arsenal, too, have had their ups and downs this season, yo-yoing between elation and despair from one match to the next. Their Community Shield 3-0 triumph over Manchester City was followed by a nervy 2-1 result against Crystal Palace before recording three league draws on the trot against Everton, Leicester City and Manchester City. This was followed by a Champions League defeat in Dortmund before The Gunners faithful were given something to shout about at Villa Park (3-0), and that elation was again short lived as they dropped points against both Southampton (a 2-1 loss) and archrivals Spurs (1-1) at home. Their 4-1 demolition of Galatasaray in midweek could give the team the spark needed to string a few vital wins together, especially given Danny Wellbeck’s remarkable form.
Wellbeck’s former teammates at Manchester United are likely ruing his departure, though they do now boast a team littered with talent. The inclusion of Falcao, Di Maria, Herrera, Blind, Rojo and Shaw, coupled to the established talents of Rooney and Van Persie may not have proved as successful on the field as it has on paper, but the two wins in their last three matches has shown what may be in store.
Poor results against Swansea, Sunderland, MK Dons, Burnley and Leicester City still loom large in the memory however, and more haunting results may yet be on the horizon as United face four of last season’s top six teams in their next six matches, starting with Everton on Sunday, then Chelsea at October’s end, Manchester City a week later, and Arsenal a fortnight after that. I needn’t state how crucial the outcome of these matches are, but they could well shape United’s entire season.
Once again, and much like the opening few weeks of last season, Southampton are proving to be something of a surprise package, and four wins on the trot from their six matches so far lands them second on the log, and that only by a scant three points to Chelsea. Then again they are away to Spurs this weekend, and Mauricio Pochettino will have no room for sentiment in taking on his former employers.
Liverpool will hope to ease their burdens of late as they play host to West Brom on Saturday, and Manchester City travel to Birmingham to face Aston Villa, who will aim to replicate their away form on home turf this time.
But the standout fixtures this weekend are Chelsea hosting Arsenal, and Everton’s trip to Old Trafford – both of these are on Sunday afternoon. With league pressure mounting, the international fixtures will seem like welcome relief to players and management alike.
I love this game!