GAPS STARTING TO OPEN UP
With almost a third of the season gone, we are starting to see some sizeable gaps opening up between first and second, the top 4 vs the rest as well as the bottom three. Liverpool’s massive win over Man City has seen their lead over their likeliest rival extend to 9 points while the gap between pretenders Chelsea and Leicester is at 8 points. Interestingly the gap to 5th from 4th is already 8 points – a big number for this early stage of the season. Sheff United are the surprise package holding 5th along with Arsenal (a resurgent Man United 1 point further adrift). At the bottom, it is a similar story with Norwich, Southampton and Watford identifying themselves as strong relegation candidates. I always feel that a massively imbalanced goal difference is a tell tale sign that confidence is completely shot and that there are serious problems within a club. Watford (-15), Southampton (-18) and Norwich (-17) have goal differences that stick out like a sore thumb vs Villa (-3) and West Ham (-6). Looking above the relegation zone it’s hard to see anyone outside of Villa and possibly Newcastle, Brighton or Palace getting dragged into the mix. My prediction is that the current three go down – I hope not as I am a Saints fan!
PEP’S POST-MATCH MASTERCLASS
Did anyone see Pep Guardiola’s post match press conference? It was a masterclass in how to handle the media. Not only did he successfully deflect several painful attempts by the interviewer to get him to criticise the referee, but he also deflected attention away from the title race by praising his team’s performance – and rightly so. Man City created the most chances and had the most shots on goal at Anfield by any away team in the past 3 years. Some days the luck goes against you and you just have to accept it for what it is and move on. Which is what Pep did. Jose Mourinho should take some notes!
MAN CITY CANNOT COMPETE CONSISTENTLY AT ELITE LEVEL WITH CURRENT DEFENCE
Ok this is not rocket science … but as positive as Man City are going forward, they are deluding themselves if they think that they will be able to mount a title challenge or a convincing Champions League run with their current defence in play. John Stones is – at least according to the Anfield chants – “shite!” Nicolas Otamendi is on the bench and not much better. Fernandinho is a great defensive midfielder and a competent makeshift centerback … but certainly not an elite one. Vincent Kompany’s retirement along with Aymeric Laporte’s injury have really caused a massive headache for Pep … one that I don’t think he will be able to overcome this season. If Man City had a proper defence, they would be capable of overhauling the current 9 point gap but I think they will continue to drop points as they are too vulnerable at the back.
NORTH LONDON RIVALS CONTINUE TO FIRE BLANKS
Both Arsenal and Spurs continue to struggle with confidence. The Gunners have gone 4 EPL games without a win while Spurs haven’t won in 5. Spurs now have an 11 point gap between themselves and a Champion’s League spot. While Arsenal’s predicament is not quite as dire, there seems to be no shortage of pressure on Unai Emery and his position as manager. Arsenal’s problems run deeper than their manager and I doubt a change would fix anything. The team is devoid of any backbone and seriously lacks the presence of strong characters in the change room. Spurs look disjointed and tired but I think they will come right and make a big move up the table over the festive season.