Liverpool in a league of their own
Liverpool have turned the Premier League into a league of their own, and who could begrudge them after some of the anguish that has befallen Anfield in recent years?
Steven Gerrard was one of the players of his generation, but the curse of having not won a league title since 1989-90 resulted in even he being reduced to pub-team standard on a fateful April night six years ago when he failed to bring a standard square pass under control. The panic-induced slip that followed allowed Chelsea’s Demba Ba a clean run at goal, and the rest was history.
It was enough to make grown men cry in the end — see Luis Suárez — the sense of angst magnified last season when the very same Manchester City were again the beneficiaries at the end of a classic back-and-forth after Liverpool squandered an eight-point lead at Christmas.
So, yeah, let them walk it this time to remove all the drama. The bookies are already paying out, and the only margin worth wagering on is by how many?
Denzel Simons would wish he were so lucky that the RG Fantasy League saw his 44-point lead in the overall standings with 14 of 38 gameweeks remaining as reason to tell the rest “Thanks for coming”, and doled out the $1,000 first-place cheque.
Simons’s Somerset Breams FC will be swimming in all the fillets they can manage if present form is continued, with Bermuda Ryangles (Ryan Miller) the only rival within 50 points.
The January monthly title went to Mike Tait’s MumboJumbo, who accumulated 306 points to win by 20 from Queen’s XI (Gordon Cox).
Leicester City v Chelsea
Forget Spurs-City on Sunday; the Premier League is getting the Game of the Week out of the way early doors with a match-up of teams whose quest for a top-four finish and entry to the Champions League would have been seen as far-fetched — Leicester because they are Leicester, and Chelsea because new manager Frank Lampard was hamstrung from a transfer ban and was building his team around recalled loan players.
But both he and Brendan Rodgers are among the few who could be said to be justifiably clinging on to Jürgen Klopp’s coat-tails in the race for the Manager of the Year.
Bournemouth v Aston Villa
Relegation Six-Pointer No 1. Bournemouth ended a four-match losing streak with victory in the South Coast derby against Brighton. But the mood around Villa Park has improved immeasurably with the Carabao Cup run and the priceless result last time out in the league against a vibrant Watford.
Crystal Palace v Sheffield United
Palace are winless in five against a Sheffield United squad whose once faultless away form has taken a bit of a knock. Don’t expect too many goals.
Liverpool v Southampton
Liverpool are hunting their sixteenth league win in a row, while Southampton are aiming for a fifth three-pointer in succession away from home. Something has to give. Inevitably, when Liverpool are the opposition in the Premier League, it has been the opposition.
Newcastle United v Norwich City
Norwich, already cut adrift at the foot of the table, can ill afford to come away from St James’s Park empty-handed. But history is not kind to them and the home side, emboldened after backing up a two-match home losing streak with three unbeaten, can exploit their set-piece dominance.
Watford v Everton
The home team has dominated this fixture the past three seasons, but only by the odd goal. Watford should fancy getting back to point-gathering ways after a shock reversal against Aston Villa.
West Ham United v Brighton & Hove Albion
West Ham have lorded it over teams from the South Coast this season but that was when they were in better form. And, to add insult, they have never beaten Brighton in five Premier League meetings. Why start now?
Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Who knew it would take the firebombing of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s home to light a fire under United? They responded with a commendable performance in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final away to Manchester City. That impetus should be enough to carry them over a Wolves side they have not lost to in 11 home matches dating back to February 1980.
Burnley v Arsenal
It was wishful, rather, naive thinking to believe that the recall of Nahki Wells from his loan spell at Queens Park Rangers was for anything other than a sale before the transfer window closes today to recoup some of the £5 million that was spent on signing him from Huddersfield Town in 2017. Burnley have done well to inch closer to mid-table mediocrity but they have lost 11 straight times to Arsenal, which suggests Turf Moor is not so difficult a place to go. Plus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is back from a three-match ban and he has notched seven in his past four against the Clarets.
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
Another year and this is undeniably match of the day. But Spurs are stumbling around without Harry Kane and City find themselves playing the long game for second place, likely 22 points behind the leaders at kick-off.
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