Here we are, at the Premier League’s 2018-2019 season halfway mark, with a surprising situation at the top: Liverpool holding a lead of 6 points at the top over… Tottenham, who found their way past the slipping Manchester City following a second consecutive defeat.
The defending champions fell 2-1 against Leicester City. The same team that stunned Chelsea a few days ago. Claude Puel was somewhat on the hot seat before the two wins, but suddenly his players’ giant-slaying performances put a completely different spin on his capabilities as a manager and on their season as a whole.
And City? This is their first back-to-back losses sequence in the Pep Guardiola era. The last time they lost consecutive matches was in the 2015-2016 season, with 3 losses in February and March, the last of them 3-0 at Anfield, the goals delivered by Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino. A different manager for Man City at the time, while Jurgen Klopp was in his early days of building Liverpool up towards where the club is now.
Which is the top spot of the league, 6 points clear as they head into two tricky matches: Arsenal and Manchester City, the latter away from home. But riding 8 consecutive league wins, an undefeated campaign in the Premier League (their last in May at Stamford Bridge, 20 league matches without defeat, 17 of them victories), they have the luxury to feel confident, relaxed and focused without despair.
Clash of the Titans
Regardless of what Liverpool and Manchester City do in their next match (Liverpool play Arsenal at Anfield, Man City face Southampton on the South Coast), it’ll be Guardiola’s men feeling the despair to catch up with their rivals in the ‘Match of the Season’ at the Etihad on January 3.
That notion of ‘must-win’ that Manchester City will carry into the match will allow Klopp to perhaps dial back his tactics ot his more counter attacking ways of last season, which worked so well in three of their four encounters vs Man City last season, especially in the Champions League.
The improvement in defense thanks to the presence of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker has provided Klopp with fertile ground for tactical tinkering. The emergence of Naby Keita and Fabinho has finally given him the midfield depth and flexibility he’s been looking for, resulting in the much more productive goal tally in recent matches, producing 16 goals in the last 5 matches and equalling Man City’s goal difference.
No Depth? No Problem
Goals have certainly been coming in hordes for Tottenham in their last two matches, thrashing Everton 6-2 in Goodison Park followed by their 5-0 Boxing Day demolition of Bournemouth. 11 goals in four days, Son Heung-Min scoring four of these goals. Wolves and Cardiff are coming up next – not a lot of rest, but being a top two team by the time the Christmas/End-of-Year marathon ends looks like a very possible outcome.
The talk of depth has haunted Spurs and their manager, Mauricio Pochettino since the beginning of the season. No signings during the summer, and Pochettino has said that January isn’t likely to be the time for new players as well. What he has, which isn’t bad at all in terms of squad quality when everyone is fit, is what he’ll have to challenge the title with until the end.
Who knows, maybe it’ll be enough not just to secure another Champions League spot, but create history.