Més Que Un Column

The Premier League is back, and its’ livvvveeeeeee! I’ve always wanted to say that. Anyway, the football.

On Friday morning I sat down and listed my predicted table from one to twenty. I tried to avoid the inevitable. I desperately crunched the numbers, trying to figure out how many away wins United would get against the rest of the big six, and whether or not Bournemouth would be able to get a point at Anfield. Would Burnley have the legs to get anything from Crystal Palace away in December, just days after a trip away to Kuban Krasnodar in Russia? And was a Europa League charge going to affect Chelsea’s end of season form in the league? Would Unai Emery finally free Arsenal from their shackles and allow them to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the big boys. No. No he would not.

But Arsenal wasn’t what I was concerned about. It was the real big boys. The country’s finest. The North-West. I had searched far and wide to find a prediction video or twitter thread which read anything different from the media narrative. How could everyone think the same thing? How could we all just flock like sheep towards an opinion so mainstream and worn out, while still being proud to call it our own? Two years ago I foolishly claimed that Tottenham would win the league following their narrow defeat to Ranieri’s Leicester. Before David Moyes’ ill-fated maiden season at Old Trafford, I was idiotic enough to have the Mancs where it seemed they would always be, at the top. But there was no avoiding it this year.

I recapped the pen only to see Manchester City sitting in first, an inch above runners-up, Liverpool. I’m not proud of what I did, but for once it seemed like the only viable option. Anything different was just too hard to comprehend. Anything else was barely even imaginable.

And on Sunday, the 38-game war began as each team entered battle. Two hours later, they both emerged unscathed, and with 6 points between them. The term must-win is overused in football, and frankly, it’s a bit insensitive (Fuckin’ hell I sound like a 21st-century snowflake, don’t I?). Not least because no one is going to die if the team in question does lose. Life and football will always go on. But yesterday did feel very ‘lose-and-your-fucked’ for the Reds. Imagine already being two, or even three points behind City after only one game. Never mind the fact that City had the much harder challenge on the eagerly-anticipated opening weekend.

Liverpool looked irresistible at times, as they so often did last season before the summer hiatus. Even though many supporters entered the contest just wanting 3 points, and ready to excuse a poor performance due to a bit of rustiness and World Cup fatigue, Jurgen’s boys were having none of it.

Big Naby Keita looked outstanding in a red collared shirt, and he didn’t play bad either. Yorkshire’s James Milner continues to defy basic biology in refusing to age. While the midfield three was completed by the man whose 7/10 every week, the not-so-big Gini Wijnaldum. The front three were the front three, only in third gear and still capable of sticking four past a newly-decorated and newly-furnished West Ham line-up.

But what a mad world we live in where you can do that to a team on matchday one, and yet not have it considered as a statement to the rest of the league, but rather just a result that you had to get. A fast start was crucial for Liverpool, mainly because they’re up against possibly the best side the league has seen since the 1980’s.

It would have been typical and in many ways forgivable, of such a dominant force from last year to slip up on day one, just as Chelsea did at home to Burnley 12 months ago. But this City side is far from typical. Its’ only August the 13th, and yet Guardiola’s men have already gone to London twice and have beaten two of London’s best, barely getting out of third gear. They’ve done so without conceding a goal. But what’s more terrifying is their upcoming fixture list.

While once upon a time, 16 points from the opening seven fixtures were more than satisfactory for a side chasing the title, City might well be disappointed with anything less than a 100% record by the evening of September the 29th. Six games against last year’s promoted sides and this year’s trio of newcomers gives the men from Manchester every chance of setting a ridiculous pace. It’s not a sprint, but it’s not a marathon either. As I once heard it described, it’s an 800m race.

Liverpool have got away cleanly from the blocks, but the Merseysiders can’t afford to see City launch into the back straight as the Reds only tackle the first bend, just like the white man in the Olympics whose left for dust by the Kenyans early on. While Sky will continuously build the title race to a climax, and will probably start advertising Liverpool’s New Year’s Day clash with City next week, it is in the next two months that the title will be won and lost. Liverpool, and United for that matter, are going to have to follow an insane pace. Because even after 90 minutes of football, City already look as good as ever.

But ‘Les Rouges’ are top of the table for now. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, if we even draw a single game then we might well be out of it by the September international break. Top of the table, with 37 games to go and all Jordan Henderson and Co. need to do now is stay there. But then again, that might involve having to win all 37 of them.

All the best.