By Tijjani Abdulsalam
Liverpool may not have won a league title yet in 30 years – counting from 1990, but the reds are no strangers to title challenges. Worthy of mention here is the fact that the reds are also no strangers to missing out on Premier Leagues titles in varying circumstances ranging from the merely unfortunate, to the utterly ridiculous. So far this season, Liverpool seemed to have merely continued where they left off last season,raking in points on a weekly basis. While some may argue that their victories have been less emphatic than they were last season, it can also be argued that the ability of any team to squeeze out points even on bad days is a pointer to the drive and ambition of that team.
Many expected Liverpool to battle Manchester City and maybe, to some extent, Tottenham Hotspurs, for the EPL title this season for obvious reasons. Arsenal were still in a rebuilding phase following twenty-two years ofArsene Wenger’s reign. Chelsea also have some rebuilding to do having just appointed Lampard to succeed Maurizio Sarri. In addition, the transfer ban preventing the blues from signing players in the summer meant that the new manager had a limited pool of players to start work with. Manchester United are in the midst of an identity crisis and realistically, seem light years away from transitioning into the EPL force they were under Ferguson. And so, for all intents and purposes, all was set for a nail biting, topsy-turvy EPL title header between Liverpool and Manchester City.
Fast forward to seventeen games later, and the reality is strikingly different.The redsbiggest challenge is surprisingly coming from Leicester City, champions in 2016. With all due respect to the foxes, winning the league in 2016, two seasons after gaining promotion to the EPL, was more of an exception rather than the norm. An exception not many would expect to see again in a decade. The reality speaks differently though – the foxes are cruising in second place, albeit 10 points behind.
The important factors that would determine Liverpool’s title chase this season are two fold – consistency and competition from rivals. The reds look good on consistency, having only drawn one out of 17 matches so far this season. Competition, or more correctly put, the lack of it has also played in their favour so far. Their closest challengers are 10 points behind and the defending champions, expected, ab initio, to provide their stiffest test are languishing in third, a further four points behind. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs seem more preoccupied with a getting or retaining a top – four spot at the moment, barring any exceptional run of superlative form.
In a season as long and demanding as the EPL, one cannot, realistically, give absolute assurance on the title chances of any team with the league just around the half-way mark. The December –January rush is just ahead, and it comes with it, a trip to the Middle East for the Club World Cup. The reds will also have to contend with the demands of the midweek champions league football and other domestic cup competitions. But so will the other top six teams at the moment, except Leicester City and Sheffield United. Loss of form to key players, injuries and suspensions are real possibilities with these involvements and a lot of squad rotation and fitness management would be necessary to maintain consistency.
It is no surprise to any follower of the EPL that Liverpool have, once again, found themselves in familiar territory as league leaders and pace setters. Sadly, though, it will also not be surprising if the collapse of 2009, 2014 and more recently, last season, is allowed to happen again. History has shown that that the reds have the propensity to let things slide out of control. The ultimate effect of their previous years of near misses is that, for all their glory, the stigma of having never lifted a league title since 1990 hangs over Anfield like a halo. For now, though, there are only two things to be certain of: one, the reds have all the odds in their favour, and two, only one thing can tell for certain if the reds can hang on till the very end
– and that’s time.