Here's a dandy poll for you boys and gals scrolling through this foul and worthless offering on a wretched Monday. Do you think Liverpool are genuinely in the title race? Forget about a race for the top four because if we don't finish in the top four this season then that'd be the most irritatingly annoying thing since Sookie Stackhouse and Tara Thornton. Finishing fifth or sixth would probably reach even Dawson Leery levels of despairing discomfort and that would not even be worth experiencing for a single moment.
So the question ETW is asking won't actually be answered in this column until after the Man United game because ETW doesn't have much confidence in trips to St Mary's and Old Trafford with the way we defend. Unbeaten in eight games in the league (only Chelsea have a longer streak) and the in-form side in the Premier League makes excellent reading. Truly. 2014 has been a good year but enough of these thrillers already! Coming to a cinema near you, an eight goal extravaganza away to Stoke saw Liverpool emerge victorious. Watch how Liverpool score early and take a two goal lead, lose it before half-time, go ahead in the second half and emerge victorious. Rinse and repeat against Swansea but the setting isn't deepest and darkest Stoke but hopeful Anfield. Fulham and Aston Villa also took their part in ding dong battles but got less than they expected after scoring two goals.
Liverpool are a good side and every Premier League manager will not relish facing a side that possesses such a relentlessness in attack. It's just that defence. That lovely, secure in holding onto leads and hardly offering individual errors defence. Eleven games to go but how many goals will Liverpool need to win a game? Liverpool would have needed two to beat West Brom and that's fine but we needed three to beat Fulham, four to defeat Swansea, and four (we scored five just to make sure) to triumph over Stoke. Writing "triumph over Stoke" felt good, exceedingly so.
Manchester United won the league last season with a final points tally of 89 points, 85 goals scored, 43 goals conceded, and five defeats in The Dark Lord's last year in office. Our rise this season has coincided with the struggles of the Dark Lord's Apprentice but it seems that pernicious lessons from the manipulator of time itself have been absorbed. Just get the wins and play to your strengths. Use excellent strikers and attacking support players to plaster over cracks elsewhere. Arsenal, Man City, and Chelsea have only won one more game than Liverpool. Forget the draws and snare the wins. By hook. By crook. By eye-popping scorelines or narrow margins. Manchester United beat Fulham at home 3-2 early last season and pocketed a 3-2 victory away to Southampton to begin the month of September. Successive wins against Stoke, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Aston Villa were achieved with attacking combined with leaking goals. Reading and Manchester City managed to score 3 and 2 goals respectively yet The Dark Lord still arose from perceived cinders...victorious. Even the 89th point was taken in a ten goal thriller away to West Brom.
Perhaps Liverpool are in the title race but without clean sheets, it is one that is unlikely to be won. Manchester United had noted problems in midfield but thirteen winning clean sheets (including a six game clean sheet streak) provided a counterbalance to midfield mayhem and defensive carnage elsewhere. Liverpool's clean sheet tally is seven and we've won each game but we'll need many much more to reach Premier League heaven.
Top four all win, happiness for Hughton, fortune favours Pardew, Big Sam gets even bigger, The Magath is here, and things get messier for Vinny Tan's Cardiff City.
Chelsea's late win against Everton, Man City's narrow victory against Stoke, and Arsenal's emphatic victory over League Cup finalists Sunderland meant the top three was as you were by the time Liverpool's game kicked off on Sunday.
Chris Hughton strikes me as a stoic and dedicated manager who carries out his work based on firm tenets of hard graft. Swansea and Norwich were promoted in the same season under the talented duo of Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert. Life in their absence hasn't been that easy but Hughton has done a decent job of succeeding Lambert even if visages of Suarez continue to litter his nightmares. Many of England's finest newspapers claimed that Hughton had to win to keep his job and comments earlier in the month indicated that this wasn't newspaper tittle tattle. Robert Snodgrass' winning goal against Tottenham shouldn't be the goal to save Hughton's job but it just might.
Sam Allardyce is another manager who has avoided being sacked this season. West Ham were struggling desperately at the turn of the year but extremely choppy waters are behind the Hammers. Credit to Gold and Sullivan because after West Ham's stunning three nil away win against Tottenham to commence October, results were...horrid. One point from six in October was all Big Sam to add to his humbling of AVB. Four points from twelve were taken in November. December was worse with only a League Cup quarter final victory over Tottenham (Sherwood's turn to be humbled by the bigger London geezer) to shout about. Two points from fifteen in a tough month where Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool popped bubbles around the West Ham faithful.
January was the month where patience was tested. An away loss to Fulham in the league, a five nil thrashing away to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, a six nil tanking received at the Etihad in the Carling/Coca-Cola/Milk/Capital One Cup, an away win over hapless Cardiff was followed by a home defeat against the Mister Alan Pardew, a further home humbling by engineered by Man City's Engineer for a proud nine nil aggregate defeat in the League Cup semi-final, and a trip to Stamford Bridge to remind Jose Mourinho of the 19th century football he often played to take home goalless draws away from home. Big Sam took home his draw and gave Mourinho an earful. Somewhere in January, Sam Allardyce should have been sacked. He wasn't and the fighting draw against Chelsea was succeeded by win after win after win. Swansea? No match for Big Sam. Aston Villa? Vanquished. Norwich? Big Sam showed ‘em. Southampton? Pochettino's skinny jeans are no match for man to engulf them all. 12 points out of 12. How about those apples Matt Damon? Sometimes it's good to hold onto your manager especially if he knows how to handle certain situations like avoiding relegation. West Ham's victory against Southampton ensures they'll enter March in the top ten. Crazy.
Alan Pardew was another manager under pressure. Like Hughton and Allardyce, Pardew has been in his job for more than a minute or three. The sale of Yohan Cabaye combined with the absence of Fabricio Coloccini and Loic Remy hit Newcastle like a well-aimed blow to a super soft stomach. Pardew set up the team to take advantage of Cabaye's ability to dictate the play and he thrived in the North-East. However, Cabaye's desire to leave was not going to dissipate and there was only one outcome when PSG came calling in the January window. Results have not been kind and performances were insipid yet Loic Remy's late winner against Aston Villa sees Newcastle comfortable in eight spot on 40 points...just five points behind Manchester United and Everton. Time to sack Pardiola? Not quite yet.
Sackings have happened recently in the Premier League. Fulham's clearance of Meulensteen, Wilkins, and Curbishley resulted in the appointment of the man every man, woman, and child should fear. The Dark Lord may have disappeared into the shadows while his Apprentice struggles but The Magath has arrived. Scatter and run. Run a lot actually because that might bring a smile on his face. Wolfgang-Felix Magath has pedigree but his disciplinarian streak had found little success recently at Schalke and his unfortunate return to Wolfsburg ended two years ago. Magath's stock had plummeted at these two clubs as quickly as it had risen at Stuttgart, Bayern, and Wolfsburg.
Felix Magath likes to combine the director of football and head coach roles. Basically Magath likes to manage with complete power and his players will have no doubt about who is in charge. Fulham might rival Hamburg as hapless club of Europe this season. Oh wait, there's Vinny Tan's Cardiff to come. Magath may be a madcap masterstroke if Magath ‘s methods are adopted quickly. He's the first German manager in the English top flight and he's never been relegated. Looks like it could be a fairytale and that would be typical of the disciplinarian. He comes in, players are revitalised and the club is saved, progress continues until it just doesn't. If that happens at Fulham then it'd be a fine appointment. A shaky bit of goalkeeping foiled a winning start so a draw will have to do for Magath and his pupils. Put money on Fulham to stay up. Possibly.
Speaking of appointments, what is going to happen at Cardiff once they get relegated at the end of the season? Can Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer save Cardiff? Probably not and certainly not from Vincent Tan. There have been many unsavoury elements for Cardiff's fans this season and Tan has been central to it all like a football club owning dastardly version of Professor James Moriaty. Someone is always to blame but it's never those who are running the club. Losing four nil at home to Hull screams "relegate me" even if Steve Bruce has played what is known in some parts as "an absolute blinder" in revitalising Jelavic and appreciating the reliable talents of Shane Long. The two have formed an impressive partnership that is full of running, understanding, and finishing. Not quite Kenywne Jones is it?
That's it for now but a round-up of all the Champions League first legs is coming up in midweek. Until then remain unfulfilled, lonely, and miserable. So without further ado...
Queen - 'Under Pressure' (via queenofficial)