Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Odd Premier League quirk shows that Chelsea rather than Man City may be Liverpool’s main rivals

‘Joint first’. It’s never really true, is it? It’s a phrase rarely heard in the Premier League football lexicon, at least until the team you support is level on points with the team above and you’re looking for the most positive spin possible.

Usually, there’s some kind of tiebreaker in play that prevents the ‘joint’ label from being strictly true: goal difference, head-to-head record, even away goals within the head-to-head. However, with Liverpool and Chelsea this season, there is genuinely a dead heat at the top after five games.

Alphabetical order currently has Chelsea shown ahead of Liverpool in most tables, although thankfully this would never be used to settle a tie come the end of the season. In the hugely unlikely event that all of the various metrics are equal, a one-off match at a neutral venue is arranged. It is far too early to start weighing up this remote possibility, but the eerily identical starts made by Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel’s sides still warrants examination.

Not only are Liverpool and Chelsea inseparable on both goals scored and goals conceded, but they have posted the exact same results every single week. Both teams have a form book that reads as follows: 3-0, 2-0, 1-1, 3-0, 3-0. The 1-1 draw came when the two sides met. It’s a quirk more than anything else, but one that is illustrative of how hard it will be to split these two teams this season.

Even setting aside the curiosity of the perfectly tit-for-tat start, four wins and a draw is an admirable record for both sides. It leaves Liverpool and Chelsea on 13 points apiece, a record only equalled by Manchester United. One team conspicuously absent from this discussion is the other Manchester club, Man City. While only three points off the pace, the nature of the results tells another story.

Klopp and Tuchel have only dropped points when forced to face one another; Pep Guardiola has already suffered a loss to Spurs and a draw with Southampton. Essentially the same Tottenham side was dismantled 3-0 by Chelsea at the weekend, while the Saints are yet to win in the Premier League this season. Man City know more than most that racking up the wins in the more ‘routine’ fixtures is the way to win the title, having been masters of the craft in recent times: their failure to do so thus far bodes well for Liverpool.

Chelsea, meanwhile, look an extremely dangerous proposition. Tuchel delivered the Champions League in a remarkably short space of time at the helm — having had the summer to consolidate, he looks ready for a Premier League charge. The acquisition of Romelu Lukaku already looks like shrewd business, even at close to £100 million. The one unofficial ‘tie-breaker’ with Liverpool is that the London side have had the harder fixtures so far, at least on paper: it doesn’t show up in the table, but to have matched Klopp’s results while taking on tougher teams is a major triumph for the fellow former Borussia Dortmund boss.

It’s a long old season in the Premier League, and Man City could yet come roaring back. Their clash against Chelsea next weekend is about as big as it comes this early in the campaign. However, the early signs will have Liverpool far more worried about Tuchel’s side than Guardiola’s.
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