This column has been away for a couple of weeks and during that time Liverpool have drawn plaudits for not only becoming serious title contenders, but arguably title favourites. The Reds have swept all before them in recent weeks in a glutton of victories and goals to plant themselves firmly atop England’s premier division. Astute tactics and a near unrivalled attacking potency leaves Brendan Rodgers’ boys with their destiny in their own hands. The same can of course also be said of Manchester City. Whichever of the two wins their remaining games wins the title, setting up Sunday’s showdown at Anfield as a potential title decider and the single biggest match of the Premier League season thus far.
With the talent at the disposal of Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively assembled squad, and the Citizens’ own frighteningly consistent, consistently frightening form, the smart money for many is to continue to back the wealthy favourites. However, if there has been a weakness to Manchester City this term, and the very fact that the title race remains so tight would suggest that there certainly has, it has been the Blues’ away form. Case in point is City’s draw not two weeks past at the Emirates. Having won four of the last five matches, averaging three goals scored, the Arsenal stalemate sticks out as a huge question mark around City’s title credentials. Sunday’s title clash however, most certainly plays to Liverpool’s strengths. Anfield is once again a fortress, a source of fear for opponents, and sure to present a quite awesome atmosphere as City are welcomed. Liverpool have also been very good against the big teams this term, always seeming to step up a gear when the opposition boasts a reputation, they proved as much in their recent spanking of Tottenham Hotspur.
Waiting in the wings will be Chelsea, with a trip to Anfield themselves to come, Mourinho and his side will no doubt be praying for the draw that might let them squirm back into the title race. Without being too impressive, Chelsea have managed to grind out the results to remain competitive, with last night’s Champions League progression versus PSG a prime example, and despite his increasingly tiresome ‘mind games’, Mourinho will still have his fingers crossed that he can drag his underachievers to some kind of success.
Brendan Rodger’s Reds have not been the only Liverpool side making waves in the past fortnight. Everton, who have been phenomenal all season, can now harbour serious hopes of earning a Champions League place having swept past Arsenal at Goodison Park this weekend. When Martinez took over from the highly respected Moyes, many expected Everton to struggle, but it now seems as if the Scott may have been holding the Toffies back. A point behind the Gunners, yet with a game in hand, like their neighbours in red, Everton’s fate is now in their own hands. There are tough matches to come, against Manchester City and Moyes’ new club, United. However, with both of these matches at home and in fine form, fans will be quietly confident of repeating the upset over Arsenal. If the Toffies do claim fourth at the expense of Arsenal, it may well mark a significant shift.
Champions League football would see Everton finally receiving the money they need to consistently compete at the top and return to the glory days, which although long gone, still leave Everton as one of the most successful clubs in England. To miss out for Arsenal would be catastrophic, due to their prudent financial model being so reliant on the European income. It would mark a significant drop in what has already been a gradual decline since the break-up of the Invincibles. It is still much too early to predict, but for the first time since his first successes at the club, it is now conceivable that Wenger may not be in charge of Arsenal come the new season.
It would also mark a huge power shift. Much has been made of the power shift across Manchester as City have strode forward and United floundered, but little has been spoken about a more significant shift in power across the country, away from the capital and up north. It may sound ridiculous to imply that the power was ever down south given United’s dominance in England over the past two decades. However, during the Premier League era, prior to the arrival of Manchester City as a real force over the past couple of years and Liverpool’s revival this season, it has been Chelsea and Arsenal competing with United. Out of 21 Premier League titles, 13 have been won by United, with 6 of the other 8 going to a London club. In 10 of those seasons, a London club finished in second. Despite a brief spell by Newcastle and Blackburn, during the Premier League era, it is fair to argue that there have been only three consistent clubs, with two of those hailing from London.
Given that prior to the Premier League era, Liverpool, Everton and Leeds dominated; it is hard to deny that the introduction of the Premier League saw much footballing power transferred down south. Manchester City it can be argued began the shift back up north, and whilst in the past couple of seasons Tottenham’s performances have ensured a London – North West equilibrium, the rejuvenation of the Liverpool clubs this year has seen the balance tip somewhat. If the fortunes of United and Tottenham continue in the way they have been, and Moyes’ men finish higher than Spurs this term it would see four of the top six harking from the North West, along with, most likely the Premier League winner.
Given the fickle nature of football, whether this becomes a trend or a blip is difficult to say, but what is for sure is that Everton and Liverpool will want to grow on their successes this term. City and Chelsea are certain to spend again to maintain their title credentials, and the trio of Spurs, United and Arsenal will all want to sharpen theirs. The excitement of this year’s gloriously close title race fortunately looks set to stay and hopefully even intensify next time around.