Liverpool have come a long way, but Chelsea slip could be felt for years


After a variously thrilling and tedious match yesterday, where Liverpool failed to negotiate their way around two buses, and then when Manchester City managed to recover a little bit of zest with an away win at Crystal Palace, the title race has entered squeaky bum time.

Indeed, it might have morphed into something else even squeakier, as three sides are separated by three points. If City win their game in hand, there might actually be just two points.

As Steven Gerrard slipped to allow Demba Ba to score what was effectively yesterday’s winner, the look on his face, one of utter despair, betrayed the possibility that this isn’t just his best chance to win the Premier League, but his last one, too. This is Liverpool’s year, they just really cannot let it slip now.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, Brendan Rodgers has done a ludicrously brilliant job to have turned Liverpool into such an exciting, and often devastating side. They are probably (if not statistically) the most dangerous attacking team in the league.

Rodgers has managed this on a relatively small budget, and the sheer scale of the improvement should qualify him for manager of the year, regardless of where Liverpool finish this season. But there has to be at least some suspicion that, because of just how much improvement there has been, that it is a one-off. Potentially, next year could see Liverpool regress to the mean, in line with the cost and wages of the squad. This would see the richer clubs pull away from them again.

Also, they will have to take on the rigours of Champions League football. The additional demands will take more out of their best players, demand investment into the rest of the squad to deal with the effort, and could distract the side from focussing purely on the Premier League.

This season, Liverpool have had the advantage of singular focus over their two nearest rivals. That will not be the case next season. There is also the possibility that should they fail to win the league this season, Luis Suarez may finally decide to leave for a more regular supply of trophies.

At the other end, or near enough, of the table, there is another problem.

Manchester United are languishing in seventh after a pathetic offering this season, having been let down by David Moyes’ capabilities, the players’ attitude to a change in circumstance, the squad left by Alex Ferguson, Edward Woodward’s negotiating skills and the Glazers’ underinvestment. If Louis van Gaal is appointed, or Ryan Giggs takes over permanently, there is almost no chance that they won’t make a sustained attack on the Champions League places, not being in the competition itself next year.

Those who stay in direct competition with Liverpool this season will also re-equip to improve for next year.

Chelsea would have won the league if all had been the same, but if they had managed to add Wayne Rooney at the start of the season. In a poor United side he has continued to score regularly - adding two more against Norwich - and he probably would have a better return if he had escaped to London, as he and Jose Mourinho wanted.

They might not go back for Rooney, but they will almost certainly be in the market for at least one new striker next year, as Samuel Eto’o approaches retirement and Demba Ba and Fernando Torres will be sold. This could well make them favourites for next year, so reducing Liverpool’s chances in 2014/15.

It’s a similar story for Manchester City, but their main problem is the defence.

Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov should be replaced - both reasonable players, but relative weak links. Martin Demichelis is just a weak link, not a relative one, and in much the same way as Chelsea not regretting buying a better striker, so City will regret not buying a real centre-back rather than Demichelis. Joe Hart, too, is at risk.

There are few problems for City in attack, so a rejuvenated defence would give them a wonderful chance of Premier League success.

There is no point speculating on what Arsenal may do, because they will do the same as they do every year until Arsene Wenger leaves, and Spurs must decide on a new manager and sensible transfer policy before they can make the step up.

But the traditional top three clubs will all offer stronger challenges in the next campaign, and Liverpool will have extra demands they have not faced.

It is not that they won’t be able to win the league next year, it’s just this season could be their best chance for several, if not more, years to come.

 

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