Liverpool capitalise on another dour game between the poster boys 0

Michael Foster reviews the mid-week Premier League action…

This has truly been the season of knee jerk reactions. These have got managers fired following one thumping, players getting panned following one poor performance, and teams getting written off following one poor result. Take Liverpool as a case in point. At several stages over the course of the season they have been top four favourites ranging to title contenders to out of the race to back into it again, like a bizarre football version of the Hokey Kokey, all as a result of what kind of performance they put out that weekend.

With Liverpool closing the gap on what had appeared to be a leading pack pulling away from the main crowd, the knee jerk reaction du jouer was to claim that Liverpool are back in the title race. While not beyond the realms of improbability, you feel they’ll have to find pick up their performances against teams they’d be expected to beat. Already this season a spell of good wins for Liverpool have then seen them drop points against Aston Villa and West Brom. It nearly happened again against Fulham, and would have done save for a moment of insanity from Riether. It’s worth remembering that, had it not been for that cool penalty take from a resurgent Gerrard, we would instead be talking about their inability to capitalise on the stumbling’s of Chelsea and Arsenal as opposed to their title credentials.

I don’t want to be too disparaging about Liverpool. At times they’ve played some gorgeous attacking football, and the fact they have only scored two fewer goals than a Manchester City squad people can’t stop raving about speaks volumes. But they are vulnerable away from home, particularly in defence. The Fulham game was the eighth in ten away matches where Liverpool have conceded two or more goals. But there are positives for them to take, such as how they aren’t so utterly reliant on Suarez anymore (that’s less good news for anyone who has spent a fortune on Suarez in their fantasy team.)

Also filling up the back pages was yet another dour 0-0 draw between two of the Premier League poster boys. You wonder whether all those TV channels who coughed up those record breaking coverage rights back in the summer are beginning to wonder just what they’ve spent their money on. It seems almost every time the big clubs have played each other, with all the hype and anticipation that goes with it, we’ve instead been subjected to a nervy, tentative game of few chances by teams terrified of losing. Chelsea vs Man United, Arsenal vs Chelsea and now the Arsenal vs Man United game have all followed this trend, not to mention that slightly more entertaining games like Man City vs Chelsea have hardly been goal fests. This is the result of how, with teams so tightly packed at the summit, losing a game would be disastrous, and the game becomes as much about stopping the other teams taking points as it is about you taking them.

Yet a draw didn’t do either Arsenal or Man United much good last night. United are now sinking into a position they can barely recognise; the end of season mid-table trudge. It’s difficult to see them catching up to Liverpool, Spurs and Everton for that oh so coveted fourth place. Right now all they can do is damage control and plan for next season. As for Arsenal they have to find a quick response, but also have to acknowledge that their star players look knackered, with Ozil, Giroud and Arteta last night looking like they’d rather be in bed then on a football pitch. It seems the lack of significant depth in Arsenal’s squad may be beginning to catch up with them, and the decision to not buy reinforcements in January increasingly looks like a mistake. Fortunate for them that West Brom only seem to turn up when they are playing a team in the top seven, as Chelsea unwittingly found out on Tuesday.

And bubbling underneath all this are Spurs, still in contention despite far from playing fantastically, save for their great result against a Newcastle team shot of confidence (their first league win at St James’ for ten years to boot). You have to give Sherwood credit. For all the paper talk about his tactical naivety, you don’t win seven league matches out of ten, only losing once, through dumb beginners luck. They will have a big say in not only their fate, but the fate of those above them, in March where they play Chelsea, Arsenal, Southampton and Liverpool one after the other. Not that Arsenal’s run is much better, playing Spurs, Chelsea, Man City and Everton on the bounce. In a month where Liverpool also face a potential banana skin against Man United, it seems this will be the period where all this swirling speculation regarding title challenges and Champion’s League qualification will come to the boil.

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