By J Hutcherson (Aug 23, 2022) US Soccer Players – There’s never going to be a convincing line for when games count enough to draw the kind of sweeping conclusions that feed a regular news cycle. The latest example of this is how Manchester United beat Liverpool on Monday in the Premier League, banging against the columns outlining the problems for United after back-to-back losses to open the season. One game changing a narrative requires the games that follow not offering up quick reminders of those initial problems. Teams still need time and consistency to become good, something we’ve seen play out over and over in Major League Soccer this season.
MLS has had plenty of time to decide trends are meaningful. That’s not the same thing as helpful, considering what we’ve watched from would-be contenders. It’s hard to push against the temptation that the playoffs represent, that these up-and-down seasons will eventually fail to lower-seeded opponents. That’s the punishment for a lack of consistency that defies any reasonable concept of competitiveness up and down the table.
The Premier League is supposed to be different. The churn of games eventually creates the type of separation that makes it clear who is really in contention. There’s no way to speed up that clock by projecting on any team’s current form. At least not now, when too many are demanding too much of what we might not know. Arsenal, the only team with nine points from three games, got them from last season’s 12th and 8th-place finishers and one of the promotion clubs. Manchester City beat last season’s 7th-place club, the same promotion team, and drew at Newcastle, last season’s 11th-place finisher. Liverpool dropping to 16th-place isn’t likely to have their upcoming opponents taking them any less seriously.
“It was exactly the game United wanted to play and you can say that is our fault if you want,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “In the beginning there, it was wild, up and down and these kind of things and they had their chance when they hit the post. Then they scored the goal and then we took over, more or less. Until the final pass or final decision, we played like we should have played.”
What’s worth asking is why that kind of response tends to get overshadowed by one result. Liverpool getting it together should concern the rest of the table, regardless of where three games leaves them. There’s too much quality in a squad that will eventually do as expected. That’s not just the game at the top of the Premier League, it’s the reward for the calculated risk of building these kind of teams.
LAFC losing to San Jose and Austin losing to Minnesota in MLS are different by scope both with the Premier League and within MLS. San Jose is now a point off of the bottom of the table, denying the league leaders the opportunity to extend their nine-point lead. Minnesota ended the weekend in 4th-place, seven points behind 2nd-place Austin with plenty of games left in a league that has embraced week-by-week uncertainty.
The same situation in the Premier League will see managers awaiting a vote of confidence, rosters reworked at the first opportunity, and the expected type of response to unmet expectations. Again, it’s a difference in scale and scope that remakes how that game gets played. While it also makes any comparisons suspect simply because of that distinct difference, we’re still talking about soccer clubs responding to situations based on specific economics. A truly lower-tier Premier League club, not one closer to the bottom of the table after three whole games, knows the reality of playing at a financial disadvantage. Relative to the Premier League price range, that plays out in leagues across the world. It’s that same situation of form, consistency, and disruption that usually needs some percentage of common sense.
And that brings us to 12th-place Chelsea. Aside from hosting Liverpool on September 18, strength of schedule favors Chelsea turning around a draw and a loss in their second and third games regardless of what they do in the transfer market.
“It’s a set-piece and a huge mistake and until then it should only have been one team and that’s us,” Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said after the 3-0 loss to Leeds. “There was enough in the first 15 minutes to kill that game, to bring it in the minimum into the direction where it was last season, when we scored the opening chance, did what we did and had a comfortable win. It was possible. Instead of 2-0 to us it became an even match, we gave two goals away, two cheap and unnecessary goals. Then the game is almost done because you lift their spirit and their belief.”
While that obviously downplays what Leeds did, it once again underlines the basic understanding of what works consistently for Premier League contenders. It’s that distinction eventually turning into separation, showing clubs that the game belongs to the better-equipped team that normally works itself out over the course of the season. Even in MLS, we’re seeing enough of that at the top of both conferences to make some safe assumptions about the regular season.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson:
- Below the 20 point line in MLS
- Playing for the now in MLS
- Five substitutes and a changing game
- Celebrating the 2021-22 European club titles
Photo by Imago via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com