Monday, 20 September 2010

Liverpool FC: Five Games In

This is something of a riposte to the Scum I've had to put up with today, and also the media reporting the statistic that apparently this is Liverpool's worst ever start to a Premiership season (so since 1992) after five games.

Now I can't really argue with that statistic if it's true, which I assume it is, but I think it's also fair to point out that we've probably not had a more difficult opening five games to a Premiership season either. We're currently 15th, and I can't claim it's been a fantastic start, but if we were much higher up the table from the games we've played then I'd genuinely be retaining hope that maybe we could go for a title challenge rather than just a top four finish.

When you break the fixtures down, we've really not dropped many points that you'd expect a team merely aiming for a top four finish to be picking up. Drawing with Arsenal at home is an acceptable result - they're currently second in the table. Sure, a win would be better, and we nearly did win, but a draw isn't horrible. Losing to both Man City and Man Utd away is six points dropped, but ultimately not six points you'd be expected to take. If we win the games at Anfield, which isn't that far out of the question, then it's no ground lost. Neither of those two games were pretty high up my list of expected points hauls for the season, and there's no shame in having lost points there.

The same goes for drawing with Birmingham away. They've now not lost in the league at St Andrews for 17 consecutive matches, so the fact that we only scraped a point there isn't too damning a statistic. It's a game that beforehand we might have wanted to win, but if they keep up that sort of home form then I can't see many other teams picking up three points there either. And then the other fixture so far this season was West Brom at home, and we won it, so no real complaints there. We've been doing pretty well in Europe as well, so it's not like things are going sour all over the place.

The fact is that, being realistic, Liverpool would probably be happy with cutting our losses under new management and hopefully getting back into the top four, which is going to be tough this season, but by no means is impossible. By any means, it's not something that can be ruled out just because our first five games haven't put us up at the top end of the table, and given what those fixtures were I don't think it's overly optimistic to still think it's possible to finish in the top four.

Where we finish by the end of the season won't be dictated by how many points we picked up against the teams at the sharp end of the table. The bulk of the points you get, and crucially the points you can truly claim to have lost, are those against teams in the bottom half, and they're the sort of fixtures that really matter. If, in another five games, we're still in a similar position, then I'll start worrying, because our next five games are the ones we need to get a decent points haul from: Sunderland (H), Blackpool (H), Everton (A), Blackburn (H), Bolton (A). Aside from the derby, which tends to be a more unpredictable fixture, I'd expect us to be taking 3 points from these games. Really, if we don't come out of these five games with at least 10 points, ideally 12 or 13, then it can be seen as signs that maybe a top four finish is unlikely this season.

The thing is that it seems so tight and competitive this season that it's really hard to predict anything. The results are all over the place. The only prediction I'd feel comfortable making at this point in the season is that Chelsea are likely to take the title.

Sure, Chelsea haven't had a tough fixture so far, but they've still won five games out of five. And they've not just won those games, they've utterly dominated them. It's one thing to have the standard "well they're not playing well but they're still picking up three points, and that's what you need to do to win the title", but it's a totally different thing when they're just hammering sides without even seeming to break out of a canter. Arsenal drew with Sunderland yesterday, Manchester United have thrown away two goal leads in their last three matches (although they rescued it against us, the bastards), Man City are erratic as hell and Spurs are looking pretty poor. On the other hand Chelsea have five wins in five, and currently stand four points clear at the top with a goal difference of +20, which is twice what Arsenal have as the team with the second-best goal difference.

If they can keep up this sort of form, Chelsea will take the title without a problem. It doesn't matter how you perform in the games against the other title challengers if you're taking six points off pretty much every other team in the division. Sure, you can win titles against your rivals, but really you lose titles by not getting three points from games you should be winning, and at the moment Chelsea are just tearing through those sorts of games. And they're not just securing the wins, they're ruthlessly executing whichever team they happen to be playing against. Whilst Arsenal and Man Utd have been shaky at times, there's not been a single point this season where Chelsea looked like they might not easily win whatever match they're playing in, and I think that is the sort of form that'll win them the league this season.

As a mostly random aside, I was linked to this picture by Nicola (HarmoNicks) yesterday:

She didn't link it to me specifically, it was just that we were talking about football on IRC and she linked to it as a demonstration of how far her football knowledge extends (it was on a hentai site). I, however, instantly recognised it was Anfield in the background and found it confusing and hilarious. I don't really understand the picture, nor do I understand why the background is mirrored, because the two stands there are The Kop (right) and Main Stand (left), and they're the other way around in reality. But yeah, it confused and amused me so I've put it on here, and if anyone knows what the picture is from I'd be interested just for lulz.

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