INTERNATIONAL breaks are good for pretty much nothing, but sometimes you’ll find positives out of them. From a personal point of view I put in a full weekend in work which always looks good to do from time to time, well in to the great lads at Sky who are letting me do the same this weekend. Nice one.
From a football point of view, the international break gives you the opportunity to break the early part of the season up into chunks. You get the first break coming in after four league games, you get the current one after seven league games, and you get the final one before Christmas coming after eleven games.
After eleven games pretty much every team knows who it is and what it’s about. The league winner has been in the top three in every league season since 2004/5 bar one (I would have gone back further but I got bored and decided I’d made my point). So in the last 12 runnings of the Premier League, the eventual title winner was in the top three after eleven games.
There’s just the one that wasn’t, but if I mention who it was I’m concerned that one reader may stand up from their office desk, head to the window and jump out. Every time I think I’m over it something pulls me back in and makes me want to throw a trainee at my TV — that’s a thing I put on my feet, as opposed to a young person in work — Ben Johnno style.
Our first two batches saw a cup win in both, a perfectly acceptable four points from the first one and a maximum yield of 12 points from the second one. Merge the two batches into one and we’ve earned 16 points from the first 21. Given who we played and where we played them we can put it in the successful bracket, achieving more points than anyone would have realistically believed.
The Burnley game was obviously annoying but seven points from Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs away more than covers that. To come away from those three fixtures with more than three points is good, to get seven is excellent. You’d even argue that two points wouldn’t have been a disaster all things considered.
So, here we are with four league games before the next international break and with a League Cup game sandwiched in the middle, the four games in 20 days will be up there with the busiest periods of our season.
But what do we want to do to get ourselves in the all-important top three as we pass the quarter pole? Well obviously four wins is what we want but given that no team at this level of football has ever recorded the maximum number of points over the course of a season you have to enforce some form of realism.
Manchester United arrive on Monday night. I hate them, they ruined my childhood and they won that much that them winning trophies doesn’t even bother me anymore. I watched their FA Cup win in May and felt exactly the same as if Crystal Palace had managed to hold on — I was just numb to it. If you’ve seen them win European Cups and league titles, what’s an FA Cup in the grand scheme of things? It’s not like if Everton had won — if that had happened I’d have spent the week in bed and considered moving to an Amish retreat until it all blew over.
They aren’t bad you know, I think they’re a bit dysfunctional and are very square pegs in round holes but they’re high quality square pegs who’ll cause us problems. We can get at them no doubt about it but you can’t look at a side who have Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba in their ranks, and a very good manager on their bench, and just think that we need to turn up to win. If we split the points with them I don’t think there’s any great shame in that, it certainly wouldn’t be a disaster if we dropped points here.
The week after Tony Pulis’s mob bounce down to the edge of the penalty box and spend 90 minutes sitting there waiting for us to break them down, while trying to engineer chances for a set piece goal. You’ve probably just had kittens at the feeling of inevitability about a 1-0 Gareth McAuley header in injury time after Ben Foster has made 35 saves. I don’t really see how a team can defend their box for 90 minutes at Anfield without letting us in to be honest, so I think we’ll get a win, it might not be pretty but we’ll wear them down eventually and pick up three points.
The Spurs League Cup tie is pretty interesting, if we win then we’re into the last eight of a tournament and have a reasonable chance of playing a Championship side or Hull for a place in the semi-finals given the way that the draw has fallen. That’s quite something. If we lost then I’d be annoyed but I’d get over it reasonably quickly, unless I was to see Tottenham getting a home draw against Bristol City, while Manchester City had a trip to Chelsea and Southampton hosted Arsenal. That’d grate on me I think.
Then Crystal Palace await, as round four of this five game run. They might be the most crackers side on the planet, Palace. Alan Pardew looked like his job was under threat after they managed to finish 15th last season despite having been sixth with 29 points as they ate their Christmas dinner. 13 points between Christmas and the final day of the season followed and they slid down the table quicker than a child on a water slide — by comparison they’ve taken 11 points this season.
A bizarre side, they seem to be getting things together; Christian Benteke looks like the player we signed, Andros Townsend looks like the player who we were being tenuously linked with in the summer, and Pardew has got them playing football that makes you think he could one day manage England. Well Hodgey had a go so why not?
Dropping points at Palace isn’t something that anyone wants to do and it would be disappointing but I think there’s an argument that we’re allowed one of these every so often. I’d love us to be perfect, but we can’t be. We’ll chalk this one in for one point in the target box.
Watford come to Anfield the weekend after and I don’t really want to say much more than we have to expect that we demolish these lower/mid table sides at home. I want at least four goals, I want blood, anything less than three points is completely unacceptable.
It sounds a really low total from four games, but if we get eight points we move on to have a two-week break while England play some pig farmers and be happy. Any more and we’re ecstatic.
But what of the others? I think United (Liverpool [a], Chelsea [a], Burnley [h], Swansea [a]) would have to be happy with eight, Arsenal (Swansea [h], Middlesbrough [h], Sunderland [a], Tottenham [h]) should be looking at 10, Tottenham (West Brom [a], Bournemouth [a], Leicester [h], Arsenal [a]) would like to take 10 but I think they could slip up in one of their two away games due to their European schedule maybe getting on top of them. They should be after eight.
City, however, should really be looking to pull away again here. They’ve got three home games against Everton, Middlesbrough and Southampton, with a trip to West Brom sandwiched in. They should be expecting 12 points from that lot but hopefully a double header with Barcelona and a League Cup tie against United takes it’s toll and they drop back, but on the face of it you have to put them in for 12. You just do. Their record without Kevin de Bruyne is surprisingly bad and could continue but they really should be winning four games there.
I suspect Manchester City could be in a great spot on the evening of the sixth of November, but there’s still 27 games to reel them back.
By my calculations we’ll see the following league table after 11 games:
Manchester City: 30
Manchester United: 21
So, by my projections, to the win the league we’re going to have to defy recent history. But, I reckon City are probably a bigger worry than some historical league tables. Any closer to City than six points after we play Watford and I’ll be getting very, very excited. Further away and I’ll be looking at holidays in April because I can’t be doing with this again.
More than eight points in the next month please, Reds.