1. Reds’ rise: Liverpool claims first place
The Quick Six has been cautious about Liverpool’s title credentials, mostly because, as pundits were trumpeting the Reds’ chances two months ago, there were too many obstacles to consider Liverpool likely title-winners. Fast forward to the end of March, however, and all of those hurdlers have fallen. Chelsea lost their second in three, Manchester City were tripped up at Arsenal, and Brendan Rodgers’ team — a club that has yet to claim a title in the Premier League era — continues to be England’s form side. After its 4-0 win Sunday over Tottenham, Liverpool is in first place, having taken 35 of a possible 39 points in 2014.
Unless you’re a Liverpool fan, it’s difficult to fathom what a title would mean to the club. This is a team that was the uncontested kings of English soccer until the Premier League era saw that crow move east. Now, during the same season when Manchester United has ceased being a title contender, Liverpool is back, and unexpectedly so. While Reds fans hoped Rodgers could eventually return the club to this level, nobody expected it to happen so soon.
They still have to face Manchester City and Chelsea, but the Reds get both of those matches at home. While nobody would be surprised to see teams of City and Chelsea’s talent get something at Anfield, Liverpool has control of its title fate. With six games left, the underdogs may now be the favorites.
2. Underdogs again Chelsea’s undoing
Consider Chelsea’s last three league games: a 1-0 loss at 12th place Aston Villa; a six-goal win over fourth place Arsenal; and a one-goal loss at 16th place Crystal Palace. It’s as uneven a run as you’ll see from any team, going from routing former title contenders to losing at relegation battlers. But just as last Arsenal’s collapse last week was less surprising than merely an unspoken possibility, Chelsea’s stumble at Selhurst Park was more disappointing (for Blues fans) than a shock. Unfortunately, this team has always had results like this in it.
José Mourinho says his team is out of the title race. We’ll diving into that further in moment, but he’s right to be skeptical of his team’s chances. After the 1-0 loss at Palace, Chelsea is two points behind Liverpool, with the Reds destined to win the goal difference tiebreaker. Even if the Blues track them down, they also have to hold off Manchester City, who trail by only two points yet have two games in hand.
The easiest route to a title: win at Anfield on Apr. 27; hope City didn’t do the same on Apr. 13. But Chelsea also have games against Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff. Over the last three weeks, those types of match ups have been the real problem.
3. Mourinho comments highlight inanity of manager fixation
There’s no sport where the role of manager is as glorified as it is in soccer, part of the reason we fixate on almost everything that comes out of their mouths. José Mourinho is the best example of this, with every quote that crosses the Portuguese’s lips landing in the headlines of London tabloids and worldwide blogs alike, but recently the Chelsea boss seems on a mission to prove how inane our fixation has become. As the season goes on, his comments become more and more absurd, as if he’s testing how ridiculous he can be before the media hits “Block”.
At least, that’s a more reasonable explanation for Mourinho’s behavior than ‘these are his honest thoughts.’
“I think now we have lost any chance of finishing first,” Mourinho said on Saturday. At the time, his team was in first place.
“We are not [contenders]. I don’t think it will happen: we depend too much on other results, and the other teams control what they need. I don’t think we can win the league now.”
If Chelsea win at Anfield while City draws, the Blues are back where they were two weeks ago: contenting, albeit regretting City’s games in hand. Of course, Mourinho didn’t think Chelsea were title contenders then, either.
It’s almost as if we should just stop listening to José Mourinho.
4. Draw at Emirates leaves both Arsenal, City losers
We’ve mentioned a potential Liverpool-City draw at Anfield as the best case scenario for Chelsea. It’s shorthand for “whatever hurts both teams most,” which happened to be the outcome this weekend at the Emirates. Though Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City was seen as a bit of a recovery for the Gunners, it was ultimately a setback in their fight to hold on to fourth place.
Consider where Everton sit after the Toffees’ 3-1 win at Fulham. They have a match in hand. They’re only four points back. They host Arsenal at Goodison Park this weekend, and they have form on their side. Whereas Arsenal is winless in its last three, Everton’s won five league matches in a row. Though the Toffees fell 4-1 the last time the teams met (March 8, the Emirates, FA Cup), Everton also earned a 1-1 in North London earlier this season. Unable to claim full points at home against City, Arsenal’s increased the odds of Everton snaring its Champions League spot.
The same skepticism can be applied to City, though. On one level, getting a result on the road against a top-four team is a positive, but City is the much better team. Coming off a trouncing at Chelsea and a home draw with Swansea, Arsenal’s form had been fledgling. After going up early through David Silva, City should have found a way to claim full points. At least, they should have felt an urgency to do so.
In terms of the title race, it was a small setback for the Citizens, just as Arsenal’s chance to finish fourth was hurt, albeit slightly, by the result. Neither team is better off after Saturday’s result.
As if to illustrate Mourinho’s possible point (that we should never pay attention to what managers say), David Moyes has found a new level to his contrarianism. At season’s onset, he insisted his team was playing well in the face of diminishing results.With a slew of attacking talents, he’s persisted with a conservative style, recently attempting to regress Juan Mata to the wide player he was before exploding in England. Add in his view that his Red Devils could win Champions League (admittedly, an obligatory view) and there are no bounds to the man’s willingness to contradict conventional wisdom.
Friday’s bit of contrarianism may have taken the cake, though. In the face of news fans planned to fly a “Wrong One-Moyes Out” banner at Old Trafford, Moyes claimed to still have the backing of United’s supporters. He may have their sympathy, but as United’s results have gotten worse, he certainly hasn’t maintained their support. At this point, most Manchester United fans would probably support a change in manager, part of the reason protest banners are flying over Old Trafford.
Manchester United beat Villa 4-1, but as others have pointed out, there was a time when such results weren’t lauded as signs of progress. The Red Devils remain seventh, a state which, despite Moyes’ contrarianism, a different approach could have avoided.
6. Bottom three DRIFTING from the pack
As the title race heats up, the relegation race is cooling down, with none of what’s become a staid, predictable bottom three mounting a challenge. Even as one of the trio, Cardiff City, got a result this weekend, it was only a draw, and it came against the club the Bluebirds need to track down. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team is no closer to passing West Brom than it was before Saturday’s 3-3 draw.
For Fulham, the underlying play is more encouraging, but the results are not. The Cottagers remain in last place after Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Everton. Adding to its worries, Fulham’s -42 goal difference means it’s unlikely to win any tiebreakers. The five-point gap that separates it from 17th place West Brom may as well be six.
And then there’s Sunderland, a club that could look to the games played column and hold out hope. Ahead of the team’s Monday visit from West Ham, the Black Cats have two games in hand on the Baggies. The only problem: Given their current form, those games may be worthless. Sunderland’s runs in the League and FA Cups have helped obscure the fact the team hasn’t won in the Premier League since Feb. 1.
We have no idea who’s going to win this season’s title, but we’re starting to get a good idea who’s going down. None of Fulham, Sunderland, or Cardiff City have found a formula that will mount a challenge to West Brom. Even when one does make progress, as Cardiff did this weekend, they finish the round no better off than they were before.