Football has returned, finally! Club football I mean, the good stuff, the stuff that matters. Yes, the Premier League kicked off its new season last Saturday and, by now, all 20 clubs involved have played their opening two matches. The biggest game of the season so far took place on Monday night, when last year’s Champions, Manchester City, took on and defeated the runners up in 2013/14, Liverpool FC.
When evaluating how the final league standings might appear come the end of May, many look, understandably so, at the course the previous campaign took, and where the teams finally came to rest, before predicting how the current season may take shape. Pundits, journalists, broadcasters & fans, each has his or her opinion, based on a variety of criteria – some scientific, others not so logical. In this article, I’ll concentrate on pundits/broadcasters and journalists predictions for the top four, with particular reference (of course) to LFC.
@AngryOfN5 has compiled a table of predictions, which can be found on the blog angryofislington.com. The table contains predictions from 60 recognised sports journalists, broadcasters and pundits, of their picks for the final top four standings for 2014/15 (two have only picked their top 2, and one her first place only).
There is no great surprise, when looking at the compilation, that Manchester City features very prominently on the list. The twice Champions and holders of the Premier League trophy feature in 83% of participants’ first two places. The slight surprise comes however, in the fact that only 25%, or 15 of those asked, have Pelligrini’s men first. This may be down to a number of factors, including a perceived lack of hunger (having won the league last year), and a possible shift in focus to the Champions League.
The main factor though, arguably, is the perceived strength of the other moneybags club in the mix – Chelsea. The plaything of a Russian billionaire, an oligarch of questionable ethics, the West London club have once again dipped into their bottomless well of cash to bring Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Felipe Luis to Stamford Bridge. These additions to a squad that performed well last year in finishing third, plus the know-how of Jose Mourinho at the helm, have made the Blues many “experts” favourites for the title this year. Two thirds (66.6%) have Chelsea as their Champions for this season, with a staggering 93% tipping them to finish in the top two.
Alright, these estimated finishing positions cause little bewilderment. Both teams hold, by far, the most cash in the division; both finished in the top 3 last year, and both have strengthened. However, when we begin to look at the picks for third and fourth position things become a little weirder.
Arsenal features prominently in the running for third place. Just over 56%, or 32 of the 57 respondents, chose Arsenal as their third place team. In and of itself, this leads to little shock – Arsenal finish in the top four recurrently, and the additions of Debuchy, Chambers and in particular Alexis, perceptibly make them stronger. The peculiarity in the list comes from the other team that appears at regular intervals in the third placed column; that of Manchester United. Almost 16% of predictors have made Louis van Gaal’s team their third placed finishers; fairly baffling, given their form last season. If you add that number to those who misguidedly have the Red Devils finishing even higher, you arrive at a figure of 20.5% who expect United to finish third or above in 2014/5. Mad eh?
Things get crazier still when you consider that only 5 out of 57 selectors nominated Liverpool as their third placed team – less than 10% – and just 10.25% have the Anfield Reds in their top three. It doesn’t end there. 26 out of 57 pundits, journalists and broadcasters (the repetition is warranted to drive home that those involved, supposedly, have a deep knowledge of the subject) have Manchester United finishing fourth, whilst only one third have Brendan Rodgers’s side fourth. An eye-watering 65% (almost two thirds) of those whose predictions were recorded in this table, have decided that Manchester United will finish in the top four this season, with just 43% tipping Liverpool to make it.
This seems to me to be highly bizarre. I find it very difficult to understand on what criteria these “experts” base their predictions. Manchester United have signed three players to date, whilst Liverpool have signed nine (including Balotelli). Manchester United have failed (so far) to cover the positions that needed reinforcement, Liverpool have not. Manchester United are starting life under another new boss (the third different boss in three seasons), meaning a period of acclimatisation for all concerned is bound to follow, Liverpool are under the guidance of a manager who has already served two full seasons, and has the complete confidence and understanding of his players. It has been widely recognised that Manchester United need serious surgery; the squad looks thin and short of quality in many areas, the youth cupboard, seemingly bare.
That Liverpool have been written off, surprises me less than how much Manchester United have been overrated. Most who look from a distance, imprudently attribute Liverpool’s success last year, solely, to Luis Suarez. Those who possess a touch more wisdom will remember that in Luis Suarez’s previous two full seasons at Anfield, the club finished 8th and 7th respectively. The player undoubtedly improved last year, but, quite clearly, so did the players and the team around him. Suarez’s move to Barcelona will have a bearing on the Reds, the style of play may be more measured, or at least less frenetic, and his individual brilliance will obviously be missed; but those who believe his departure signals Liverpool’s demise, will be rudely awakened as the season progresses. For what it’s worth, this writer believes that Liverpool will finish third or higher this season.
In conclusion, I’d like to share a couple of pieces of information, which further highlight the preposterous nature of the afore-mentioned “expert” predictions. Since 2004/5, ten full seasons ago, and the year that Liverpool won its fifth European Cup/Champions League, only twice has the team finishing in second position, dropped out of the top four the following year – Liverpool in 09/10 (amidst the Hicks and Gillette debacle) and Chelsea in 11/12 – going back further, Newcastle were the previous team to accomplish that embarrassing feat way back in 1998. And as for going from seventh to first, that’s never happened – John Motson and Dion Dublin take note- NEVER! In fact, the team finishing seventh has only ever breached the top four in the proceeding year twice in Premier League history. On both occasions, the same team managed to accomplish this; the instances occurred in 2000 and 2014; the club concerned? Liverpool!