Fine margins are the difference in a tight Premier League title race

The team that wins the league this season may not boast the most expensive squad, play the most dangerous attacking football, or even be the most solid at the back. In this tightest of title races the team that proves the most versatile, that can change the way it plays depending on its opponents, will come out on top.

No doubt after their extraordinary thrashings of Watford and Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea are now being hailed as this week’s favourites for the title. Liverpool certainly underlined their progress under Jurgen Klopp, by demolishing a Watford team which beat them 3-0 last season, although they still displayed defensive vulnerabilities, conceding a soft goal and if Watford had been more clinical it could’ve been more. Still, does conceding the odd goal matter if you’re scoring 5 or 6 at the other end?

Liverpool’s attacking strength is based on the fluidity of their formation and the sheer number of quality attacking players they have at their disposal. It’s not the end of the world for Klopp if one of his attacking players hits some bad form or gets injured, as they can easily be replaced. So far the 2-0 defeat at Burnley and the drab 0-0 draw against Manchester United seem to have been nothing more than blips, and if Liverpool keep up their impressive record against the top sides (2 wins and 2 draws), they may be able to afford an off day against a bottom half side every now and then. So far their attacking versatility has allowed them to overcome the vast majority of their opponents, it could just be enough to win them their first Premier League title.

Chelsea, a team that endured a shaky start to the season but is now finding it’s stride, will definitely be up there with them. Antonio Conte’s introduction of a back 3 was certainly a bold step, but it shows that he isn’t afraid to be versatile with his system in order to get the best from his players. Eden Hazard in particular has flourished, liberated from the duty of tracking back by the presence of Marcos Alonso behind him at wingback.

While Conte is playing with a system to fit his players, his counterpart at Manchester United is attempting to force his players to fit his system. Mourinho’s almost religious dedication to playing with a 4-2-3-1 is forcing him to play too many players out of position, Rashford and Mata aren’t wingers but they have been forced out wide to accommodate more expensive acquisitions. Compared to Liverpool or Chelsea, United seem rigid and nervous, with abject defending them causing problems against a Swansea side low on confidence. You can get away with being shaky at the back if, like Liverpool, you score 5 or 6 per match, but United have been punished for their shaky defence in games against Stoke and Watford. If they carry on like this they’ll struggle to make the top four, never mind win the league.

I haven’t even mentioned teams like Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham who are all in with a shot at the title, but who have also been inconsistent over the first 11 games. That’s why I’m backing Chelsea, the only top team that has progressively improved throughout the season, and Liverpool, who have been consistently outstanding throughout a difficult opening run of fixtures. Although looking back at least season’s title race, I wouldn’t put any money on it.

Ian White

Photo Credit: Premier League

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