According to most ‘experts’ Liverpool aren’t going to do anything this season. They have no chance of making the top 4. They have no chance of keeping Gerrard and Torres, despite both players being at the club after the same newspapers reporting every day over the summer that one or both were definitely leaving. There is also some grumbling amongst some of the more idiotic ‘fans’ on radio phone-ins about the manager, the players and the owners.
Liverpool’s detractors point to their league position, which admittedly after 5 games is poor. They are currently 16th, below the likes of Wolves, Blackburn and West Brom. They point out with barely disguised glee that Liverpool are currently below Blackpool in the league.
Despite in those opening five games having to play Arsenal, and having had three of the toughest away trips in the league, to Man City, Birmingham (unbeaten in 18 league games at St Andrews) and Man United, Liverpool are in deep trouble. Make no mistake about it
However, they’re talking complete and utter nonsense. We’re only five games into the season for goodness sake.
While it’s true that it’s unlikely Liverpool will win the league this season, I don’t know any rational Liverpool fan that actually thought that was a realistic target. It’s also true that Liverpool didn’t deserve to win against Manchester United, but there were lots of positive signs.
For instance, after going 2-0 down, Liverpool didn’t look for the nearest exit and go through the motions waiting for the game to end so they could retreat down the M62 home, as they would’ve in the past. Instead they stood up and fought, levelling the game, showing the same inner strength they showed against Arsenal in the opening game of the season.
Liverpool have a new manager who is employing different tactics from his predecessor and have a whole host of new faces in the team. If you look at the line-up at Old Trafford, particularly the midfield, there were three new players in there. Joe Cole and Raul Meireles hadn’t played a whole half of football in the Premier League for Liverpool before that game and Christian Poulsen had only played two games before.
It’s not a surprise to anyone that Liverpool are in a transitional period. Not only are there new faces and new tactics but also one of Roy Hodgson’s tasks is to try and reverse some of the more damaging effects of Rafa Benitez’s reign. By this I mean that Benitez coached the natural instincts out of certain players, so they’d better fit his methodical system and some players lost all confidence towards the end of his tenure. Hodgson has to try and undo this and allow the players to play their natural games and have the confidence to try different things.
As I mentioned earlier, Liverpool have had a tough start to their league campaign, with four difficult matches and had a much tougher opening to their league campaign than their rivals. I’ll try and demonstrated how much tougher.
Lets assign a value to every team in the Premier League based on where they finished last season to try and quantify the degree of difficulty of a particular schedule (I know this is simplistic but work with me). Therefore Chelsea as champions would be 20 points, Manchester United 19, Arsenal 18 and so on down the table until you get to Newcastle 3, West Brom 2 and Blackpool 1, as that was the order they finished in the Championship.
So Liverpool has played in their first five games this season; Arsenal (18), Manchester City (16), West Brom (2), Birmingham (12) and Manchester United (19). This gives a total of 67. Compare that to Chelsea’s opening five games West Brom (2), Wigan (5), Stoke (10), West Ham (4) and Blackpool (1). This is a total of 22, a much weaker schedule. Applying this to other team’s schedules gives Man United at total of 43, Arsenal 41, Manchester City 55 and Tottenham 39.
This doesn’t tell the whole story however. Many teams have a huge disparity between their home and away records. Fulham picked up 36 points at home but only 10 away, winning only once, so it’s not a stretch to say that Fulham at Craven Cottage are a tougher proposition than they are away. Similarly, Birmingham City lost 12 games away but only 2 at St Andrews, only Chelsea lost fewer home games. So I’ll try and factor in relative home and away strengths of the opposition to try and get a more accurate handle on the relative difficulty of team’s schedules.
A slightly weird result of doing this is that Aston Villa had only the 12th best home record but the third best away, gaining 32 points both home and away. When teams finished on the same points I separated them by number of wins, so Fulham are ranked higher than Blackburn despite them both getting the same number of points at home.
So if you assign points based on the home and away records of each team (remember when a team plays at home you judge the strength of the opposition on their away ranking), Liverpool’s opening five fixtures now look like this Arsenal (h) 17pts, Manchester City (a) 15pts, West Brom (h) 2pts, Birmingham (a) 10pts and Manchester United (a) 19 pts. This gives a total of 63. Applying this to the other teams expected to be around the top this season gives; Chelsea 24, Manchester United 47, Arsenal 49, Tottenham 43 and Manchester City 45. I think this shows just how much more of difficult start to the season Liverpool has had compared to their rivals.
Despite the disappointing start to the season, Liverpool are only three points off 4th place, and with upcoming fixtures at home to Sunderland and Blackpool, both games Liverpool would expect to win, they will be back in the upper reaches of the table in no time.
Also, Liverpool fans, don’t despair about going out of the Carling Cup, despite it being a truly atrocious and embarrassing result. The team we put out wasn’t all that strong, but still should’ve won. In retrospect it was probably a mistake by Hodgson not to have any experienced players on the bench as the team looked as though the badly needed an experienced player to come on and settle them down. Sadly David N’Gog had one of those nights where he looks like he’d be unable to score if he was marooned on Nymphomaniac Island. Ryan Babel had a stinker and Lucas and Spearing, well were Lucas and Spearing. Congratulations should be offered to Northampton, as that was an excellent result for them.