Liverpool will probably manage a top 4 finish this season but so far their campaign has been poor for their standards and something is very wrong at the club. After a slow and awkward start criticism had to calm down after they beat the champions Manchester City 1-0 at Anfield. Some claimed that we had witnessed one of the great Premier League matches, one of the great duels and yet it felt like we had seen better before from these two clubs who have had some epic run ins over the past three seasons. Liverpool actually did little wrong in the game and it was certainly their best defensive performance of the season, however Liverpool won the game because Manchester City didn't. To explain, City played very average for their standards. One would find themselves as lost as Ashley Cole did at the 2002 World Cup when the great Ronaldinho sold him a dipping shoulder on route to Brazil knocking England out of the competition if one were to count how many terrible passes City made against Liverpool. Erling Haaland was poor, possibly the first time we have witnessed this is in the Premier League, he didn't get too much service because of the final poor passes but what should a centre forward do who is starved of chances? He should drop back, Haaland didn't and was plain lazy in one of the biggest games of the season. It was interesting to see how the Norwegian rectified this against Brighton in City's next game, another poor performance from City but we will speak about that later.
Back to Liverpool, fears did subside because of the 7-1 win over Rangers and let's remember how they stuck 9 goals past Bournemouth earlier in the season. Defeats against Manchester United and Arsenal didn't feel as terrible as some made out- they were both away games. But it is the draws against Fulham, Crystal Palace and Brighton that dented hope and then this past weekend losing to Nottingham Forest, one of the poorest sides in the league thus far, that just felt like a new low for the Reds. Normal isn't normal anymore for Liverpool, and they have certainly dropped down several gears. The selling of Sadio Mane was bad business but then again Darwin Nunez looked like being a good replacement and he still could be. But the drive and hunger is not at the same levels and yet this Liverpool side can still be dangerous, slightly more unpredictable as a result, but if they end this season without silverware who would be surprised? Odd to think this in October when at the beginning of the season we would have been surprised at such a statement.
If Liverpool can find consistency and finish in the top four the business heads will be happy, manager Jurgen Klopp less so, he has drilled this team to be winners and that is the bottom line. They have developed this fascinating rivalry with Manchester City, but if we were suggesting that a title looked over for Pep Guardiola's side two months into the season but they might finish in the top 4, that would be damning evidence that standards have dropped. Despite such a slow start for Liverpool we should remind ourselves here is a team that are unbeaten at home after six games and have picked up 14 from 18 points. However they would rank in 16th place away from home with a stunning zero wins and 2 points from 15, and that is where Klopp's side are suffering. All of the fixtures bar one in league and cup seem winnable up until the World Cup break, that one game that could be tricky is their next away game to a direct top 4 rival in Tottenham. Klopp will have to find a plan b quickly to save his teams season.
There has been a lot of praise for Manchester City this season and just going back to Guardiola's team that praise has been rightly justified. They were brilliant before they signed Haaland and now they look even better, but in the last few games the champions have let their standards slip, let's explain. In City's last three games in all competitions they have won one game. This includes their Champions League match with Copenhagen which finished 0-0 away from home. Granted City have qualified but not yet as group winners. That was followed up by the Liverpool defeat- their first of the season. Losing to Liverpool away from home isn't a major concern however given how the Reds have started the season that could be more questionable. But some of the passage of play from the champions, for them, wasn't good enough. Then came the Brighton game, why could anyone complain if City won 3-1, the truth is City did not play very well and indeed Brighton were unlucky not to get something from the game. City looked sloppy at times, Haaland's opener on another day could have been ruled out for a push, he used his strength but that doesn't mean VAR will always be so sympathetic to his style of play, an almost throwback to the 60s and 70s. City's second which seemed to kill the game was a soft penalty. Did Bernardo Silva leave his leg out invitingly? It looked like it. Brighton struck back brilliantly with a superb goal from Leandro Trossard- one of the finds of this new season and then Kevin De Bruyne settled it with a thunderous world class strike, game over because simply put City had too much class on the pitch. But Guardiola might just be a little concerned overall. There are gaps in this City team to be exploited, and if Brighton can do it why can't a top Champions League side in the latter stages find a way too? There is also a complacency at times, not to criticise the club too much, they are still overall wonderful to watch, but maybe they are not switched to full gear yet.
Finally Steven Gerrard was sacked as manager of Aston Villa. One has to hope it wasn't based solely on results. Yes Villa's were not brilliant but Gerrard had a better win rate than Graham Potter at Brighton and yet Potter in effect got a promotion and went to Chelsea. However in any case Gerrard's sacking unlike some this season feels justified. You get the sense that he was distant not only to the fans but the players too. And once he was gone Villa in their next fixture won only their 3rd game of the season beating Brentford 4-0, three of those goals were scored in the opening quarter of an hour! Former Arsenal manager Unai Emery will be the new boss at Villa and that should make for interesting times.
The Champions League is back this week, here are the latest odds:
To win the Champions League: Manchester City 2.75, Bayern Munich 6.00, PSG 7.00, Liverpool 9.00, Real Madrid 13.00