With almost three months of the 2018/19 Premier League season gone, the situation at the top of the league could barely be tighter.
The top two teams – Manchester City and Liverpool – are level on points, and a north London trio of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs sit within touching distance of the top.
Man City undoubtedly remain the team to beat, but it is perhaps Liverpool who will be under the most pressure to deliver, with the club’s summer spending regularly referenced by critics who believe that Jurgen Klopp’s side simply must win the league this year.
Given that almost all of the top clubs have spent large sums of money on player transfers over the past few years, the demand of a Liverpool title win in order to avoid a season categorized as failure is a little excessive.
After all, only one team can lift the trophy, and the collective quality of the teams competing has never been higher. But having only challenged for the title once in the last 10 seasons, Liverpool do at least need to demonstrate that they can be credible challengers to Man City.
In that respect, the season has started well. Liverpool’s six wins in a row from the start of the season has been bettered only once in the Premiership era, and the Reds responded well to a period of four matches without a win during the first half of October – returning to winning ways over the last couple of weeks.
Defensively, Liverpool have been exceptional, conceding only four goals in their ten Premier League matches which have included trips to Leicester, Tottenham and Chelsea in addition to their fixture with Man City at Anfield.
There should also be encouragement taken from the fact that the Liverpool have achieved such good results without yet performing at the team’s full potential. If there are any concerns at all, the attention has focused more on Liverpool’s attack, which hasn’t been as deadly as last season – although the three-goal contribution to by Mane and Salah to Liverpool’s win at Brighton last weekend made it 13 goals in 10 games by the front three, which is two more than at the same stage last season.
In addition to a stronger first team and additional quality through the squad, an issue which cost Liverpool last season when faced with injuries, one of the biggest reasons to believe that Liverpool can dramatically reduce the gap between themselves and Man City is the scope for improvement on last season’s results. Liverpool’s tally of 75 points was 25 short of Man City’s record-breaking total, but it’s much easier to identify where improvements are possible.
In the 10 fixtures involving games against the other top six teams, Liverpool took only 10 points from 30 – only 1 of which came away from home. Liverpool also struggled against teams at the foot of the table, winning only 2 of 6 matches against teams who went on to be relegated. Even with a small improvement in results against lowly opponents, it would be easy to see Liverpool achieving a much better points total than last season.
Whether even a significant improvement would be enough to seal a first title in 29 years will be dependent on how close Man City can get to replicating last season’s performance. Pep Guardiola has already described the challenge of emulating last year’s showing as “impossible”, and it’s likely that his team will be put under greater pressure from rival clubs, which will present City’s players with a domestic challenge that they didn’t have to face last season once Man United fell so far off the pace before even the halfway point of the season had been reached.
The next few weeks will help answer the question of how hard Man City will be pushed by their Premier League rivals. In each of the next six weeks, there are fixtures taking place that pair two of last season’s top six teams together, starting with Liverpool’s trip to Arsenal tonight.
It will be another test of the title credentials of Liverpool, and should they remain joint top after the weekend’s round of games, there’ll be just a little more belief that the club can produce a season-long challenge for a league title which has eluded them since 1990.