Premier League: What speaks for Liverpool in the bitter championship three-way battle

Sheffield coach Chris Wilder and his team had just lost 3-1 at Liverpool when he made it clear who he supported in the Premier League championship fight. “I hope you win. I really mean that,” Wilder said to Liverpool FC employees in the locker room at Anfield Road on Thursday last week.

Most people in England currently think like Wilder. The vast majority of neutral football fans want the “Reds” and coach Jürgen Klopp to win the championship again when he says goodbye at the end of the season. But the title fight between league leaders Arsenal (71 points), second Liverpool (71) and third Manchester City (70) is closer and tougher than it has been in years.

The three championship candidates, who are already ten points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, are at the top of the league in all categories. Nobody scores more or concedes fewer goals, nobody is higher in the home or away table than these three.

Liverpool have already turned around seven games after falling behind

“It’s a three-way battle between the currently biggest English teams, with the best players and the broadest squads,” says Jan Aage Fjörtoft, a former professional (including Frankfurt) and now a TV reporter in the Premier League for the “Viaplay” channel. The 57-year-old Norwegian said he had “had the feeling since November that it was going to be Liverpool. They have to overcome so many obstacles and still manage to win games even after falling behind.”

Liverpool have already come from behind in seven games, even though Klopp’s team has the biggest injury worries in the league. Currently, keeper Alisson Becker (thigh), defenders Joel Matip (torn cruciate ligament) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (knee), as well as Thiago (hip problems) and Diogo Jota (knee), five possible regular players are out until the end of April or longer.

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However, everyone at Anfield Road wants to give Klopp the second championship after 2020 as a farewell gift. The team has been unbeaten in 32 home games. The “Reds” are difficult to calculate. There are many potential match winners with Mo Salah (23 goals this season), Darwin Núñez (18), Cody Gakpo (14) and Luis Díaz (13). “What’s impressive about Klopp is how many very young players he has turned into top performers,” says Fjörtoft: “And in Alexis Mac Allister he has a midfield all-rounder who is showing his winning qualities right now.”

World champion Mac Allister (came from Brighton for 42 million euros before the season) recently became the first Liverpool midfielder since Steven Gerrard to be involved in at least one goal in six games in a row. In addition, the Argentine harmonizes perfectly with his teammates, the ex-Bundesliga stars Wataru Endo (came from Stuttgart) and Dominik Szoboszlai (moved from Leipzig to Liverpool).

Klopp himself actively uses the emotionality surrounding his departure. He now makes the famous celebration with the winning fist in front of the stands “The Kop” more often than before after home victories. “At the moment he is showing more and more energy in every interview,” says Fjörtoft.

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Arsenal FC is also hungry for a championship 20 years after their last title in 2004. Coach Mikel Arteta spent years building a winning team that learned from the runner-up title in the previous season. “Arsenal has grown up. “You don’t always have to play particularly attractively and know how to score points efficiently,” says Fjörtoft.

The defense around Gabriel and William Saliba, who play the most minutes in the squad, is particularly secure and only conceded 24 goals in 31 league games. With the 0-0 draw at Manchester City, she also became the first defensive player to keep a clean sheet away from City in the league in 47 games and two and a half years. A milestone for the 47-year-old Arteta, who learned under Guardiola as an assistant coach at City from 2016 to 2019. Arsenal was also the only team to win a direct duel between the championship candidates in the second half of the season (3-1 against Liverpool).

Manchester City has become more vulnerable

What’s special: On average, the Gunners’ players are almost two years younger than those at Liverpool or Manchester City. The team around 25-year-old captain Martin Odegaard is close friends with each other. Additions such as clearer Declan Rice (25, came from West Ham for 116.6 million euros) or 24-year-old Kai Havertz are perfectly integrated. Havertz in particular, who came from Chelsea for up to 75 million euros, is currently the sole leader involved in many goals and chances and is already playing his way into the position for the home European Championships with the DFB.

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That leaves Manchester City, which has been at the top in five of the last six years, won its longed-for first Champions League title last May – and is back at the top again in coach Pep Guardiola’s eighth year. “Pep’s trick is that the team has won the treble and is still hungry for more,” says Fjörtoft: “His intensity, his instructions on the sidelines are a key to this. Everyone believes they can start a winning streak until the end of the season.”

But the TV expert restricts: “They have become more vulnerable and are no longer quite as confident as last season – because Ilkay Gündogan (went to FC Barcelona, ​​i.e. Red.) is no longer there. He is a balance player and was the best player in England last year, exactly at this stage of the season.”

There is currently a heated discussion there about the role of striker Erling Haaland, who often lacks connection to his team’s game. Former Man United star Roy Keane even said that – apart from scoring goals – he had the qualities of a “fourth division player”. Fjörtoft rejects this: “If they could, Arteta and Klopp would walk to Manchester and get him.”

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After 52 goals in the previous season and despite injury problems, Haaland is once again at the top of the top scorers list this season with 19 goals. The extreme depth of the squad also speaks in favor of City. Last week, Guardiola was able to rest Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones – and won 4-1 against then fourth-placed Aston Villa.

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Director De Bruyne in particular is back in top form. The Belgian was out until the turn of the year with a thigh injury, but has since been involved in 17 goals in just 14 appearances. Because of him, City is the most dominant team, plays 100 more passes per game than the other championship candidates and has the best pass rate in the league (88.3 percent).

The same applies to all three teams: Even in Europe, everything still counts. Manchester City (quarter-final against Real Madrid, first leg 3:3) and Arsenal (against Bayern, first leg 2:2) are still in the Champions League, Liverpool (against Atalanta, first leg 0:3) in the Europa League. So English weeks await – in the truest sense of the word…

The article was written for the Sports Competence Center (WELT, SPORT BILD, BILD) and first published in SPORT BILD.

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