Merseysiders have never won it; when it was Division I they couldn’t stop
It is 28 years since Liverpool finished top of the pile in English football. I don’t point this out with any spite in mind. Simply, the fact continues to amaze me.
Before the inception of the Premier League, Liverpool won the old First Division with such regularity that the league should have considered giving them the trophy in perpetuity and creating a new one.
So, is the team with 18 titles under its belt about to take that figure to 19? February could provide many clues.
Liverpool will play away at West Ham, at home to Bournemouth, away at Manchester United and home to Watford.
On paper – where football isn’t played, of course – they all look winnable. United are still be in the running for a fourth place finish so should provide the toughest test. But, even a point at Old Trafford should not derail the Reds’ title pursuit.
Their main rivals for the crown, Manchester City, have three home games out of four in February. The opposition isn’t exactly easy – London sides Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham. City’s one away game takes them to Everton who have been so inconsistent that any result would not surprise me.
I predict that both Liverpool and City will add 10 points to their respective totals in February. Anything less will put a question mark against their title-winning credentials.
As if often the case, it is the scrap to avoid relegation that will concentrate the minds of several teams.
For me, it’s a case of perm any three from six at the foot of the table. The six I expect to battle it out are (in alphabetical order) Burnley, Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Southampton.
Burnley face both Southampton and Spurs at home. Their away matches are crunch fixtures against Newcastle and Brighton. I think they will get a win and a couple of draws in the month. Will that be enough in the long term? Just, I think.
Cardiff will host Bournemouth before travelling to Southampton. They follow this with two home games against Watford and Everton. Can’t see them picking up many points in February which (given Sod’s Law) will probably mean they’ll win the lot. No, four points out of 12, I think.
Fulham face three away fixtures. Two are derbies at Palace and West Ham, the third is against Southampton in a ‘six-pointer’. Their fourth fixture for the month is home to Manchester United. Three or four points, I think.
Huddersfield look pretty done and dusted to me in terms of relegation and February’s fixtures should do little to lift their mood. Away at Chelsea and home to Arsenal isn’t the easiest way to set the ball rolling. They follow this by travelling to Newcastle, then it’s Wolves at home. Think they will do well to pick up one or two points.
In addition to Huddersfield, Newcastle will also face Burnley at home in February but their two away games are against Spurs and Wolves. I expect them to win the home matches and maybe grab a draw at Wolves. If you offered Rafa Benitez seven points now I think he would gladly take them. Mind you their win against City has done them no harm whatsoever.
As mentioned, Southampton are at home to Cardiff and Fulham and away at Burnley – a whole clutch of six-pointers. They also visit Arsenal. A tough month by any standards, but, under their new manager I see real signs of improvement. Wouldn’t surprise me if they won two and lost the balance.
My bottom three at the end of the season? Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield. It’s a bit of a cliché to say I wish them all well and hope I’m proved wrong. But I do. However, three teams have to make the drop and it should not be presumed that if I wish these three well, then I hope the other three all go.
The middle of the month will see the staging of the fifth round of the FA Cup.
I do still wish that winning the cup meant as much as it did in my youth. I feel that the fourth slot for an English team in the Champions League should go to the Cup winners, not to the fourth place in the Premier League. That’s the only way to stop managers treating the FA Cup as a third rate competition, completely changing their teams and testing out their youngsters. It’s bad enough that they do this in the League Cup.
Something needs to be done. The half-empty terraces in the earlier rounds were testimony that all is not well.
By Dave Buckley