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Did Liverpool Land A Knockout Blow On Boxing Day?

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With the two great results in the Leicester City-Liverpool and Wolves-Manchester City matches, the Reds are now big favorites to take the title.

Leicester City v Liverpool - Premier League
Insert Rocky metaphor here.
Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I can already predict the comments below.

It’s too early, Zach.

There’s a long way to go, Zach.

Don’t get carried away, Zach!

Hey, didn’t you do this shit last year too, Zach?

These are all reasonable things to say, especially given Liverpool’s uncanny and unique ability to lose league titles after leading on Christmas day. The entire fanbase has a rational fear in the back of their minds that something will prevent the Reds from ending that 30-year itch.

Maybe we’ll lose or draw every match for the next four months. Or maybe Salah, Firmino, Mane, Henderson, Van Dijk, and Alisson all collide in training, injuring them all. Or maybe the league will deduct 50 points for fielding too many openly Muslim players. Could happen, yano.

But all of these fears are, in fact, pretty irrational.

The events of the last two days can only be interpreted one way: Liverpool are now big favorites in the title race, and it would take a rather unlikely confluence of poor form, bad luck, and a drastic improvement from the sides who are chasing us, to change the odds against the lads in Red.

And this isn’t just a feeling of near inevitability, either. Very smart math(s) folk, with very fancy computers have come to the same conclusions. Prior to Boxing Day, Liverpool had an 82% chance of winning the league, according to FiveThirtyEight. That number improved to 90% after the absolute dismantling of second-placed team, Leicester City, and improved yet again to 95% after a 10-man Manchester City conceded 3 late goals, and lost away to Wolves.

Again, I can see the comments:

Dude, these are the same people who told us Trump had no chance! (Not actually true).

Come on, they said we’d win last year!

On the second point (can’t be bothered with defending the first more than the above link), Liverpool were favorites around this time of year in 2018/19, but were at no point above 80% favorites to take the title. There’s a world of difference between a 1 in 20 chance, and a 1 in 5. (Or a 1 in 3, ask Hillary Clinton...OK, now I’ll let it go).

Now, I don’t believe FiveThirtyEight (or other, similar odds-makers) to be the be-all, end-all of the argument. I think there are problems with their model, as evidenced by the fact that it has, in my opinion, been overrating Manchester City—mostly by underrating their defensive frailty—all season. However, I don’t think this 95% estimate is far off. It certainly passes the “eye test.”

Liverpool are now 13 and 14 points clear of cities Leicester and Manchester, respectively. With a game in hand. Against West Ham, who have been dreadful this season. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the “real” distance is 16 and 17 points. If the roles were reversed, and this were either of the Manchester clubs or Chelsea, everyone would be saying that the league is over, and rightfully so.

While the Reds are unlikely to maintain their ridiculous 2.89 points per game average (seriously, I can’t believe I even wrote that), it’s even more unlikely that the two closest teams—currently on 2.05 ppg and 2 ppg—will match or better Liverpool’s first half of the season in the second.

If Manchester City win out, they’d finish on 95 points. For Liverpool to finish on 96 (or more), they would need 44 points on the way in, or 2.2 ppg. In other words 15 wins and 5 losses. Or 14 wins, 2 draws, and 4 losses. Or 13 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses. You get the idea.

In any of the above scenarios, it would represent a dramatic drop-off in form, and would likely still be enough to walk the league from here on out. And for a team that has one league loss on the books since the start of 2018/19, that just doesn’t seem likely.

Of course, it’s not over until the league title is mathematically assured. That’s the ultimate goal, and the only way to accomplish that feat is to keep on winning. But make no mistake, the Reds are well and truly in the driver’s seat, and Manchester City and Leicester can only watch and hope for a series of slip-ups here on in.