Liverpool show signs of weakness in the title race. Can they turn it around? Can Brendan Rodgers revitalize Leicester City?? Did Tottenham keep up their drawless streak??? Find out in this edition of the Workmanlike Performers.
Sam Cicci: Well, well, well….look who actually decided to show up to our weekly column.
Matt Hein: Unlike how Real Madrid decided not to show up against Barcelona twice this week.
MH: After an action packed week in the Premier League, the table is delicately poised for the stretch run in. Has Liverpool already blown it?
SC: As the English say, they’ve likely bottled it. What is this, a six point swing? Not too long ago Liverpool had a five point cushion, and now they’re a point behind. Don’t get me wrong, they are still very much in the hunt. But look at them; their attackers seem to have lost their verve, Salah especially. He was always due for a regression to the mean after his stellar 2017-18, but he’s just a passenger out there right now. Mane is trying, but can’t get much to come off, while Firmino is just coming off an injury. If the front three aren’t firing, it’s hard to see where goals will come from, and with Man City grinding out wins, it’s going to be tough for Liverpool to retake the advantage. Their only solace might be that they have simpler fixtures through the spring. But whichever way you shake it, they can’t afford any Gerrard-esque slips.
But enough about that. On to a much more important topic: B-Rog (other people call him that, I promise) is here! Brendan Rodgers has been kickin’ it over in Scotland and racking up trophies with Celtic the past few years, but he’s made his not-quite-triumphant return to the Premier League. Tough first loss for him against Watford over the weekend, but what can we expect from his Leicester side going forward?
MH: Leicester will probably never return to the title winning heights of their glorious 2015-16 season. It’s really no shame; that feat may never again be matched in pro sports. They’ve settled in as a solidly mid-tier side and could be positioned to continue in that vein. To say it’s been a weird season for Leicester would understate the facts. The team started off extremely well and appeared to rally after the freak death of their owner. But they’ve been dour recently, with only one win in their last nine games.
Leicester still have the bones of a good team. They have an excellent set of young defenders, including the most English of the English players, Harry Maguire. James Maddison has also sparked at times this season, even if it looks like a stiff wind could blow him off the field. Brendan Rodgers left a divisive figure after his time at Liverpool and it’s difficult to draw conclusions from his time at Celtic, riding the lead horse in a one-horse league. Challenging for the title or even Champions League places again is not in the future at Leicester unless they happen upon multiple world class talents again but if they can continue to develop their youth, they can continue to sustain success.
How do you see Champions League spots shaking out by the end of the season?
SC: That’s tough! There’s only a two-point gap from fourth-place Manchester United to sixth-place Chelsea, and the Blues have played one less game. You know I personally want to see Chelsea qualify for that last spot, but I’m not sure they can do it. They’ve had a really awkward time of it over the past few weeks and don’t look like producing much. Chelsea almost dropped points to last-placed Fulham on Sunday, and if they don’t kick it into gear, they may stay in sixth. Arsenal look good at times but still have plenty of flaws to iron out.
If I had to put money down, I’d say Manchester United will squeeze into that last spot. They’re on a surging run of form, and if they can eke out results even with the number of injured players stretching into double digits, then it’s hard to bet against them. Starting forward line out of commission? No problem, throw on a forgotten man to score four goals in two games to secure the six points. While Tottenham look like they’re running on fumes, they should have just enough left to hold on to that third spot with a relatively easy run-in (Liverpool and Manchester City notwithstanding). For the end of the season, the top of my table looks like:
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
But now, let’s play the speculation game. Over the eight remaining games, which team OR individual will turn out to be the most spectacular failure?
MH: I think when Liverpool don’t win the league.
SC: Do you mean Liverfail?
MH: The heat will have to go somewhere.
SC: Will Jurgen Klopp finally start to be criticized by their fanbase?
MH: I think the criticism will start, but if Salah continues to disappear in big games he will unfairly be the target. He is still the second leading scorer in the league at the moment, but when the goals dry up, you almost forget he is on the field. People will also hold him to the standard of last season, where he absolutely set the league on fire with a run of form well above his career norm. I could also see a big Allison mistake, namely trying to do too much with his feet, that will leave the Reds with their head in their hands about a keeper error again.
SC: Someone will have to be the scapegoat. But if Liverpool are forced to let someone go, do they hand them a pink slip or a Gerrard slip?
MH: I would like to apologize to anyone who has had to watch a game involving Huddersfield this season or to the people in Huddersfield who had any hopes this season. Three wins and five draws in 29 games is abominable, and I thought would be closer to the record. Apparently though, Derby had only 11 points all season ten years ago. I do not know how you recover from that. (They never did recover).
SC: I would like to apologize to fans of strange statistics. Tottenham attempted to outdo the “Invincibles” title from Arsenal’s unbeaten 2003-4 season (and, of course, Preston North End’s 1888-89 season) by becoming the “Undrawables.” Instead of becoming the first team to not draw during a season, however, villain and enemy of future trivia factoids Hugo Lloris decided to ruin everyone’s day by saving a penalty in the final minutes of the North London Derby and denying joy to anti-draw enthusiasts everywhere. A sad day for football fans everywhere, and a stain on the World Cup-winner’s legacy.
Workmanlike Performance of the Week
MH: This week, Romelu Lukaku receives our distinguished award.
MH: Boo. Lukaku came out of the doghouse this week for a United team that badly needed any warm bodies. United is actually probably about to hold open tryouts if more people go down. But Lukaku provided more than just a name on the teamsheet, which had been the case at times this season. Scoring four goals in two games, he showcased all his best skills as a strong finisher. His contributions will be critical to keep United in the Champions League conversation for the rest of the run-in.
— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci