Saturday August 30 2014

Liverpool, United & Spurs a notch below title chasers

While many observers have their doubts about Balotelli, Sturridge

While many observers have their doubts about Balotelli, Sturridge should embrace him because the burden of carrying Liverpool was going to become too much to bear at some point. Agencies photo 


Totteham Hotspur might be the early pace-setters, Liverpool the champions of the window by quantity, and Man United the new holders of the British transfer record, but all three are a level below the Premiership’s general title chasers of this season.

Having split the big six down the middle from the very onset, I have since been bombarded with rejoinders, the Liverpool fans especially irked that I should fancy Arsenal over them in the race proper.

It is not as if the gulf in class is gulley-deep really, because the demarcation lines will be blurred along the way and in the ultimate classification I reckon, with the points gap between the top five (even six) in the final tally barely creeping into double digits.

And with Arsenal having struggled through their first couple of fixtures I can understand why my take should come under immediate scrutiny, especially since (like has been the case so often before) they have already lost a vital cog to injury.

Gooners across the globe have loved to malign Olivier Giroud, but almost all will quietly or grudgingly admit his absence will be felt.

Whether Arsene Wenger looks from within on without for a remedy, I believe that Le Professeur being the longest surviving manager among the challengers, and the Arsenal squad being the most stable, should count for a lot.

Everton will rock the big six again like they did in displacing one (United) last year, and adding Samuel Eto’o to the fray is shrewd business from the astute Roberto Martinez.

But for now the Spaniard’s Merseyside rivals are still in pole for the top four.

The hope for those who are desperate for the union to work is that Brendan Rodgers does a better man-management job on Mario Balotelli than the enigmatic Italian striker’s oft-times exasperated previous minders. Or that Balotelli himself has now matured enough to factor the bigger picture into proceedings, to look beyond his nose. Preferably both.

Liverpool need for him to be a consistent hit to challenge, because the goal-scoring burden of the team will be too much to bear in the long run for Daniel Sturridge trust me, even if he looks the part now.

The bigger issues are however with Rodgers getting it right for the demands of particular games, where his midfield set-up is concerned in relation to his defence. Leaving Lucas Leiva and/or Emre Can out of the lineup against the big sides, and having Steven Gerrard sitting deep in front of the back four will not work for instance …

Man United
Events of the last fortnight have served to emphasize (as if it wasn’t all too clear already), that United need to get a top class central defender and central midfielder (one of each will do) to plug gaping holes and be competitive again.
Only then will the signing of Angel Di Maria make footballing sense.

The rare combination of sleek-footedness and tireless toiling makes the Argentine a dream acquisition for any team, but not even his all round game can offset the imbalances in the United team.

What he gives the club however goes beyond measurable on-the-pitch returns, it is invaluable.
He represents a flexing of muscle, a show of ambition, an injection of belief in the project by all and sundry, boosting everything from stock prices to attractability for other good players etc.

All that said, and after Louis Van Gaal has rammed home the dynamics of his new system and intricacies of his philosophy, he has to find a way of changing attitudes and reawakening the group from a bad dream.

Countless times last season, and in the three games so far this term, United players have lumbered around the pitch in an eerie trance, individuals, departments and sometimes the entire group all standing around waiting for something to happen rather than making something happen. That is more disturbing than any lack of quality personnel they might suffer from.