Friday, September 7, 2018

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 3



Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis


3) INTERNATIONAL BREAK
 

5th September 2018 – We have not yet got to that stage of the season where commentators reporting on Liverpool’s progress assume a pitch and velocity that suggest imminent combustion, but it can’t be too far away. The international break has put a slight dampener on things, but we'll soon be up and running again. 

Summer has come and gone, long and gentle though it was and the first chills of autumn suggest it is time to take a tight rein on our optimism. We are, after all, only four games in, so far in this nascent 2018-19 season.

Already, though, the signs are there, like clouds sitting atop volcanoes on a clear September morning, that Liverpool are made of stern enough stuff this year to stick around longer than last season. A title challenge is what it's being called. That challenge will – almost certainly – be levelled mainly at Manchester City, the title holders and most obvious obstacle to Liverpool’s ballooning ambitions.

International breaks are loathsome things for club managers and the first one of the season, coming just a matter of weeks after a start has been made, is particularly hard to bear.

Liverpool, at least, can take their early breather looking down on everyone else. Whether the fact that Chelsea and Watford form some kind of thin as mist buffer between them and City at this point is anything other than false security remains to be seen. Certainly two points is neither here nor there; the dropped points at Molyneux nothing to carp about and City’s early season form nothing to get your hopes up too high about either.

In short, there’s a heap of work to be done and nothing of note has happened yet anyway. Or has it? A certain Thomas Gronnemark might like us to think differently to start with.

Gronnemark, in case you had been trekking the most wifi-unfriendly outer reaches of the Faroe Islands for the last fortnight, is Liverpoool’s throw-in coach. Yes, football has moved on to this. We have been through speech therapists, used up the worldly wisdom and sharp elbows of press officers and heaped praise on goalkeeping coaches, so now it is high time the throw in got some attention.

Roy Delap may have brought the act of restarting play a certain amount of limelight, when he hurled a few game changers into the box on Stoke’s behalf a decade ago, but this, we are reliably informed, is different. This, we are confidently told, is about more possession, better possession, winning possession, dangerous possession. Already at the repeated mention of the magical word, you would assume, Pep Guardiola is cocking his head to get a better listen.

"I saw Joe Gomez take some really good throws for Liverpool that I had not seen him do before, he was fizzing it in there," said Ian Wright, using a tone that suggested this excited him more perhaps than it should have done.

Liverpool, in defeating Leicester City last time out, had 54 throw-ins. Sounds a lot? It is a lot. And Mr Gronnemark is insisting on Liverpool’s players using them properly. No Benjamin Mendy larking about here, just good solid, sensible throw-ins.

If this is one tiny crumb of evidence that Liverpool are leaving no stone unturned this season in their efforts to close the huge gap that separated the two sides in May last season (look away now, it was twenty-five (25) points), then – however tempting it is to ridicule – City must prepare themselves for a challenge that is being prepared in every meticulous detail. Scrupulous to the nth degree, Herr Klopp is leaving nothing to chance in his battle royale with Señor Guardiola.

May the most painstaking planner prevail.  Simon Curtis



5th September 2018I found myself thinking about Watford on Monday.

Not a usual occurrence but they had beaten Tottenham the day before to make it four wins out of four – a remarkable run and one which, going into the international break, makes them one of four teams to have a 100% record in the Premier League, alongside Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Oh wait, City don’t have a 100% record. They drew one of their games ... with Wolves.

Now before you starting posting death threats through my letterbox, City fans - I’m not taking the piss. Quite the opposite, actually. Because in that moment I genuinely thought City had begun this season in typically serene fashion, swatting aside all-comers with their brand of intoxicating and ruthless football. That they haven’t remains a source of surprise.

As it is, three wins and a draw remains an excellent start for City, especially considering they have scored 11 goals in the process and conceded just three. Pep’s boys have also won away at Arsenal and will not be the only team to come unstuck against Wolves this year. Oh, and they hammered Huddersfield to within an inch of their life, while putting Newcastle in their place thanks to an absolute howitzer from Kyle Walker. I see he’s scoring goals now as well. Great.

The issue is that, by their own standards, not winning four out of  four games feels like a small failure on City’s part. Maybe they won’t be as great as they were last season? Maybe us Liverpool fans can hope for glory, after all?

I remain unsure - City still look strong and have players to come into the mix who have so far been conspicuous by their relative absence, most notably Leroy Sane. The 22-year-old has made only one start this season, and that was in the Community Shield. Quite frankly I’m terrified what he’ll do, and what he’ll give City, when he comes back into the side properly, which I assume will be sooner rather than later.

So City have stumbled but by no means have they fallen going into the current break from domestic battle. Pep will hope his troops return from their respective international games in one piece ahead of the first real intense stage of the season; fixtures in midweek as well as at the weekend, including in the Champions League and er ... against Oxford United in the Carabao Cup.

Nothing has dissuaded me from the belief that, come May, City will be champions again.
Well, it’ll either be them or Watford. - Sachin Nakrani




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