In the last 3 games United have managed 9 points and Liverpool only 2. Gary Neville asked after the Burnley win: “Why shouldn’t Man United fans believe?” This fixture is so eagerly awaited by fans that it dwarfs the whole weekend of sport.
There is plenty of potential for new story lines. Most exciting is the narrative that Man United make an earlier than expected comeback to winning trophies, claiming the Premier League title and stopping Liverpool embarking on what they’d hoped to be their era of domination. Sunday means a lot.
This Season Has Felt Like a TV Show
I will remember this season for its erratic nature and the changing opinions of football fans, pundits and the media on a weekly basis. Full of upsets, no one can predict anything.
Matchday 5: Everton earned a draw at home against Liverpool and were top of the table. After all the midfield signings the Toffees have made over the years it’s finally paying off, they said. After which Ancelotti’s side lost 4 in 5, dropping 8 places to 9th in the process.
At this point Arteta was branded a serious problem and Lampard was doing great things at Chelsea. Alan Shearer said “no one has any reason to doubt him [Lampard] as a manager” – which I would still agree with.
Jose reinvigorated the idea that he is ‘the special one’ as Spurs were top of the league on the 11th of December, matchday 12. The two clubs in Manchester were said to be out of touch, Pep nowhere near his best and Ole perceived to be unsure of knowing his best squad.
Fast forward to today: Spurs are bottle jobs again, Frank Lampard might be out of his depth, United could win the league, City are feared and Arsenal are back! Liverpool might be the most consistent side of the big six and yet they don’t seem right.
Every Game Counts
Being top of the league in January doesn’t mean anything, just like being top in October, December or with three games to go and Chelsea on the horizon, (or Aguero!) Anything can happen.
On 13 occasions the team at the top of the league on Christmas day have not won the title. It’s happened to Arsenal 4 times 😬. “No one remembers January league tables.” said Ole Gunner Solsjkaer.
However, January transfers could make a big difference. Phillip Coutinho, Aymeric Laporte, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Virgil van Dijk and Luis Suarez were all bought after Christmas. Bruno Fernandes arrived in January and since then United have won more points than any other team in the league.
Don’t Take Your Eyes off City
Right now United and Liverpool are the centre of attention whilst Man City are in 3rd position, 4 points behind the leaders with a game in hand. So, with City in beast mode, is it really a title race between the two Reds?
Kevin De Bruyne looks close to his best and John Stones is beginning to show his worth. Pep’s balanced squad and clever rotations have given players like Phil Foden the opportunity to put in some good performances.
They have that boisterous confidence about them, seen in the give-and-go’s and the way they fizz the ball around the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if after Sunday, Manchester City become our number one protagonist.
Who Can We Be Sure Of?
The surest bet would have to go to Fabinho in my opinion. Jordan Henderson says the Brazilian has responded “magnificently” to his new role and it’s impossible to argue with that assessment. We already knew about his defensive abilities, but he has adapted to dealing with increasing number of high-pressure one-on-ones with ease.
Aston Villa as a team have been superb, they sit in 8th with two games in hand and 6 points behind 4th spot Leicester City. Villa have created the most chances and taken the most shots per game. Jack Grealish has shown his class, El Ghazi has found form and Emiliano Martinez has been notably impressive.
However, the most surprising has been Patrick Bamford, playing like a solid number 9 with 10 goals so far this season and the most shots on target. The frontman once turned down a scholarship from Harvard University to purse his dream of playing in the Premier League. We can safely say that he made the right choice, and his swashbuckling Leeds team have been one of the stories of the season so far.
At the end of the day, the only certainty in football is that nothing is certain.
In a league where Leicester City triumphed in the 2015/16 season, with odds of 5000/1 against, we’ve learnt to expect the unexpected. So, for now, enjoy the chaos as this rollercoaster of a season plays out.