We’re in to March and in a shock moment, the unbeatable Liverpool have fallen to a defeat. The Reds went into the final day of the month looking for a 19ᵗʰ consecutive league win that would be a record across all 4 of England’s professional leagues, but they found themselves losing 3-0 at home to Watford. At the other end of the table, Brighton’s 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace on the same day means that they remain the only team in all of England’s top 4 leagues to have not won a match in any competition.
Premier League Round-up
“He’s cut! He’s cut! The Russian’s cut and it’s a bad cut. And now it’s Rocky Balboa coming after Ivan Drago!”
– Rocky IV
It finally happened: after 44 league games unbeaten, Liverpool lost at home (of all places!) to Watford (of all teams!). Liverpool looked poor in this game as Watford put them under pressure, with Ismaila Sarr scoring the first 2 goals and playing a key role in Tory Deeney’s to defeat the Reds – who had just 1 shot on target – by a score of 0-3.
For the last couple of months, I have been suggesting that barring a massive slip-up, Liverpool had the title confirmed, but they have been far from great in recent weeks and have now lost 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions following a Champions League loss to Atlético Madrid and Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to Chelsea. Is this the beginning of the slide?
Not likely, as they are in such a strong position. With 28 league games played, they have the same amount of wins as Arsenal’s “Invincibles” managed in the 2003/04 season and they find themselves on the same amount of points as runners-up Chelsea managed that year, 11 less than Arsenal. Yet they will find themselves leading Manchester City by 19 points, or more if City fail to win their game in hand. Such has been the lack of competition from their league opponents this year.
Will they lose the title from here? Highly unlikely as I still see the teams below dropping point even if Liverpool do have a bit of a bad run, but after their bad luck in recent title run-ins, they need to make sure that they get back to winning ways soon. With March seeing them host Bournemouth this weekend, host Atlético in the second leg of their Champions League Tie, travelling to Goodison Park for a Merseyside Derby and returning home to face Crystal Palace, it is imperative that Liverpool get some good results from these games.
Sky Blue Brexit
Probably the biggest news affecting the Premier League this month was the announcement that Manchester City would be banned from European competition for the next 2 seasons due to “serious breaches” of UEFA’s financial regulations. As well as reigniting the race for the top 4 (or top 5 if City finish in the top 4 as expected), it has left City fans worrying about who will choose to move on, as stars like Sergio Agüero and manager Pep Guardiola may decide that European football is too big of a draw to ignore for the next 2 seasons.
To me, there is another discussion that should be had for the rest of the season: the players used in the remaining games. With the Premier League looking all-but gone this season and top 4 not important now due to their European ban, the focus should be on keeping the stars fit to compete in this season’s Champions League, with a view to winning this season before their ban takes effect.
This would also allow them to look to the future in the league matches. We already know that David Silva is leaving at the end of the season, Leroy Sané has been a transfer target and others may chose to move on. Without European football, City may not be able to pull in the big names, so this is a chance to look at the younger players in the squad like Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus to see if they are good enough to become key members of the starting lineup if required, while also trying to find a centreback combination that can be successful if Aymeric Laporte is unavailable.
Breaking new ground
February saw the Premier League’s first official mid-season break, as Round 26 was spread over 2 weekends. While I like the decision to have a mid-season break as it will help keep the players fit during a long season, I do not personally agree on the break being split over 2 weeks.
I completely understand why it has been done that way, to maximise television revenue by giving the broadcasters 2 weeks to broadcast 1 round of games, however it does lead to some level of inequality. A team forced to play on the first week of the break could desperately need that break a week earlier if they are struggling with injuries to put together a viable starting XI, while a team who play on the second week could find themselves struggling in an extra match as they return following a break in football.
There is also the issue of the weather. We know these days that weather will cause havoc at this time of year and having all games on the same weekend in my view makes it fairer as poor conditions in the second week will force teams to reschedule in an already busy schedule, but poor conditions in the first week could allow those teams to just play a week later while still getting a break from football, leading to them having a less congested fixtures list.
For me personally, a mid-season break is the right idea, but all teams should have the same week off in order to keep things fairer across the park.
We all know that a high boot is illegal in football as it endangers other players. But when does it suddenly become legal? Answer: when it’s a striker attempting a bicycle kick in a crowded box. Such was the case in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Everton, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s opener was allowed despite his scissor kick bringing his foot dangerously close to the head of defender David Luiz.
I have some sympathy for defenders and midfielders in cases like this, as these overhead kicks are often more dangerous than high boots that everyone else gets penalised for around the pitch – my mind immediately goes to a red card given to Nani against Real Madrid – despite not even getting close to the head – the most important part of the body!
Why do we allow these overhead kicks in crowded areas? Let’s be honest and admit it is purely for the spectacle of seeing the player execute one of these for a shot at goal – visually they look great, in terms of safety… less so.