Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Three teams who could ruin Chelsea, Liverpool or City’s title dreams

View photo
It isn’t over yet.
As Steven Gerrard pointed out in the immediate aftermath of emotional victory over Manchester City on Sunday, nothing has been won.
To borrow Brian Moore’s words of 25 years ago, the title is up for grabs now. And we all know what happened when Moore uttered that line.
For sure, after their fantastic win over City on Sunday, Liverpool are clearly now the favourites. But only narrowly.
True, their destiny is in their own hands and their form is superb. Win all their remaining games and the title is theirs, the first in more than two decades. And winning is a habit they have embraced with gusto.
Since the turn of the year they have dispatched Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and both Manchester clubs with an aggregate score of 19-3. Ten games they have won on the bounce.
In a sequence like that, winning their last four ought to be a formality. Especially as the closing straight begins on Sunday against the crumbling Norwich, Luis Suarez’s favourite opponents, the team he can’t stop scoring hat tricks against.
And their final game is at home to Newcastle. Which must count as the easiest way imaginable to accrue maximum points.
Yet, before too many lifelong Liverpool fans emerge from the woodwork to crow about success, it is worth pointing out they are by far the least experienced of the three contenders. Only three players (Kolo Toure, Glen Johnson and Daniel Sturridge) possess even the most peripheral knowledge of what it is like to lift the trophy.
And there is one serious obstacle to premature crowing. Never mind their game with Chelsea at Anfield, Liverpool have to play away at Crystal Palace.
Four months ago that might have seemed the simplest of tasks. But that was before Tony Pulis arrived to take charge, and transformed the south London club from relegation certainties into the toughest of opponents.
Pulis has never lost a home game to Liverpool. He is precisely the sort of spoilsport who would relish mucking up the Scouse party. And points dropped in south east London would allow either Chelsea or Manchester City to ease past to take the trophy.
Chelsea have the singular advantage that they are managed by the best. If you were looking for someone to steer your club to silverware there is simply no-one better than Jose Mourinho.
Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers might be astute tacticians, they might be more pleasant company, but neither of them comes close to matching Mourinho’s record of achievement.He has done it so often, a season without a trophy (like last year with Real Madrid) is the exception.
When his side travel to Liverpool next weekend, he will have them brilliantly organised, perfectly attuned to nullifying every possible threat. Three points there and Liverpool are effectively emasculated.
Sure, it might seem ridiculous that a side without strikers could win the title. But if anyone can find a way to skip round such a problem, it is Mourinho.
Like Liverpool, however, they face a significant block in the road to success. Their game at Anfield is sandwiched between the two legs of the Champions League semi final against Atletico Madrid.
Publicly, Mourinho would insist that he is as determined to win the Premier League as he is to succeed in Europe. But given the choice, he would surely prefer to become the first manager in football history to win the European Cup with three different clubs and only the second coach after Bob Paisley to win it three times.
And there can be no doubt that the priority of his boss is the European one. That might have sufficient psychological bearing to derail his efforts in the league at Anfield.
Of course he and his players will want to win both. But at the back of their minds, there will be the inevitable thought of holding something back to ensure they make the final in Lisbon.
Mind, if Chelsea to do something at Anfield they will not be the only beneficiaries. If the two sides share the points that meeting, then it opens up the path for City.
Seven points behind Liverpool they may be, but Manuel Pelligrini’s side have two games in hand. And such is their home form, the games they have left at the Etihad – starting tonight with Sunderland, then taking in West Bromwich, West Ham and Aston Villa – are as close to a guarantee of 12 points as you can get.
But then if the title had been solely dependent on home form, City would have been crowned champions weeks ago. It has been their travel sickness which has undermined their challenge. And City have two of the toughest fixtures possible away from their Etihad redoubt.
Right now Palace and Everton represent precisely the kind of opponents you would wish to avoid in the chase for points. If City were visiting Newcastle, Hull or even their ever-more subdued neighbours, then the swag workers of Manchester could have already the presses up and running with championship memorabilia.
But without a margin for error, City simply have to win every game remaining. It is not beyond their capabilities. Theirs is, however, the toughest task.
Which is why the probability is that the title will be Liverpool’s. But I’m not putting any money on it.
The chances are, like 1989, like 2012, this race is one that could go right to the very last second.

No comments:

Post a comment