Following their spirited 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic last Saturday, Liverpool’s veteran centre half Jamie Carragher appeared optimistic about having a crack at a top four finish this season.
“With winning on Saturday, we are not too far behind the top four. It is still up for grabs,” Carragher told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Beside the top two, and even Manchester United dropped points on Saturday, a lot of the teams are dropping points all over the place.”
And even a distant look at the Barclays Premier League table, suggests that the Champions League wining defender isn’t too far off in his assumptions. Whether you back Brendan Rodgers’ team for a shot at a European berth or not this term, they are indeed only four points off Arsenal, the bookies’ favourites for a fourth placed finish. Just for the record, Arsene Wenger’s team themselves currently lie in sixth.
But perhaps just as interestingly as to who’s in front of Liverpool in the league table, is that of who lies behind them. Because if their current 11th placed position sits them in with a chance of finishing as high as fourth, what on earth does that say for the teams behind them?
Of course, making assumptions about league finishes in mid-November probably isn’t the wisest decision and at this time of the year, positions can be deceptive. You probably wouldn’t expect West Brom to reside in either fourth or fifth come the end of the season, as you wouldn’t necessarily expect Liverpool to remain in a lowly 11th.
Although since the opening day of this season, something’s felt a little different within this league. As ever, the Premier League has continued to produce the drama and excitement that makes it the most entertaining league in the world. But where as this stage of the season, favourites usually tend to emerge, squads begin to solidify and defences sharpen up, it just doesn’t seem to be happening.
Yet again, we were treated to another weekend of results from the left-field with the underdogs winning and the perceived favourites seemingly refusing to step up to the plate. The result has been fans’ accumulators plunged into disarray and fantasy league teams taking a hammering every weekend. But while the emphasis has understandably been on events at the top of the table, it is the make up of the bottom half of the Premier League, which offers some scrambling observations.
Because in the same way Carragher and Liverpool have their eyes on a fourth placed finish, one that currently lies eight points above them, the likes of Southampton and Reading have their eyes on Premier League safety.
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And if the Saints fancied trying to claw back an eight-point gap in the league, that would hypothetically place them above Liverpool and into 11th, were that to happen tomorrow. Again, it seems like an extremely reactive and naïve comparison to make. But make no mistake about it; the fight to stave off relegation isn’t going to be any less tight than those fighting for a Champions League place.
An opening day 5-0 mauling at the hands of Martin Jol’s Fulham saw some to have seen it fit to cast off Norwich City as potential relegation candidates. Impotent up front and in disarray at the back, Chris Hughton’s side looked set for a long, arduous season ahead. Although while their season could very much still turn down that road, they currently sit in a comfortable 133th spot with 14 points, five points clear of the drop.
Yet for some, the Canaries are by no means out of the woods yet, although by the same logic, could the teams sandwiched between both themselves and the relegation zone, not also be in a potentially sticky situation?
Considering the woeful form of QPR are currently enjoying, it may seem difficult to see the R’s staging a comeback, but even then, it would be naïve to write them off so early in the season.
Both Southampton and Aston Villa – if we exclude the 5-0 mauling at Manchester City – have looked like improved outfits in recent weeks. Brian McDermott’s Reading team were another who were seemingly written off at the beginning of the season. Although should they win, they will remain only one point behind a certain Stoke City.
And this is where it gets interesting. Both Stoke City and Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland are currently lingering in 14th and 15th respectively. On face value, you’d probably expect both teams to steer well away from danger. But is it really that impossible that either could potentially find themselves dragged into trouble?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but as Alex McLeish’s reign last season ended in pure ignominy, at this point last year, it was hard to possibly imagine a team the size of Villa facing relegation trouble. But that’s exactly what happened and at risk of playing devil’s advocate here, Sunderland aren’t a million miles away from where the men from Villa Park found themselves last season – both in form and position.
Wigan Athletic’s traditionally enigmatic form ensues that yet again, it’s anyone’s guess as to quite how close to the trap door they find themselves come May. As they showed yet again in their 1-0 win at Spurs this season, they have it in their locker to upset any team on their day in this league – the question is quite how frequently that day comes around.
With so much football left to be played in the Premier League this year, it’s a brave man who sticks his neck on the line to call the champions, the top four or the three sides to go down. But as clichéd as it sounds, it really is closer than ever. Maybe mid-table mediocrity isn’t such a bad thing after all.
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