Monday’s soccer news starts with the Premier League table. Though the unbalanced schedule is still causing problems in figuring out the contenders from the rest, the top two are level on 16 games played. A tiebreaker separates 1st and 2nd-place, with Liverpool and Manchester United both with 33 points. Liverpool’s +17 goal difference is the best in the league, seven of them coming from one game in December. Five other teams are doing better than United’s +9. What any of that means in January is an open question.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “I am delighted with the three points and very happy with the performance but there are always things we need to improve on. It is early in the season and we shouldn’t be too carried away yet. It isn’t a cup final yet, but those two extra points are important.”
That’s what makes the congested schedule around the holidays so interesting in the Premier League even in this abnormal season. There’s no doubt that the glut of games is asking too much of the players. Still, it gives teams the opportunity to force the kind of separation that would otherwise take weeks. Manchester United’s 2-2 draw at Leicester City the day after Christmas might’ve sent a clearer message with less games on the schedule. Instead, it’s part of an undefeated streak for United that started on November 7.
Wins over Wolverhampton and Aston Villa now have Manchester United a point ahead of Leicester City with a game in hand. Leicester following up their United draw with another at Crystal Palace has them needing to keep pace once the third round of the FA Cup is done. It’s now Leicester in position to take advantage depending on the result of Liverpool vs Manchester United on January 17. Back-to-back draws for Liverpool have opened up the top of the table.
Liverpool plays Southampton on Monday afternoon in the somewhat strange position of needing points. The League Cup version of the Manchester derby and the FA Cup has United waiting until January 12 for their next Premier League game at Burnley. Then it’s Liverpool in what could be a clear indication that this version of Manchester United is the team to beat this season. In this season of draws following lopsided wins, that might not be the same thing as a clear title contender.
“Yeah, this season is a tough one for the supporters,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “If you are neutral then you will love it, I’m pretty sure, because it will go to the wire probably. But it’s just tough for all of us, that’s the reason why it’s so close.”
ESPN’s Rob Ursy compares Manchester City’s tactics to Chelsea’s in the 3-1 win for City. The Independent’s Miguel Delaney on the struggles for Frank Lampard’s version of Chelsea. SI’s Jonathan Wilson also considers the situation for Chelsea after the loss to Manchester City alongside the larger pandemic issue. RB Leipzig interviews new signing Brenden Aaronson.
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