We are often told that the bookmakers rarely get it wrong, but there is no doubt a degree of regret already gripping the betting industry over the decision to declare Manchester City favourites for the Premier League title this term. On Sunday, Pep Guardiola’s men followed up their unconvincing opening-day win at Wolves with a 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City and a performance that verged on the shambolic at times. Then, just over 24 hours later, Liverpool laid bare the folly of their own pre-season rating by making it three wins from three in convincing fashion against Arsenal.
By David Lynch
The Gunners took the lead through Alexandre Lacazette and, for large parts, looked far more cohesive than they have done during their most recent visits to Anfield.
Yet, by full-time Mikel Arteta was under no illusions that his side are still some way short of the reigning champions.
“It’s Liverpool’s quality,” he said. “They put you under pressure on the first, second, third, fourth ball.
“They keep going, they have bodies, they have quality. You put them under pressure with a perfect high press and van Dijk hits an 80-yard ball to Mo Salah’s chest. This is quality.”
The quality Arteta alluded to was too often dismissed during discussions over whether Jurgen Klopp’s team could defend their crown, largely as a result of a mixed end to the last campaign.
But it is worth considering that, for all their ‘poor form’ during a run-in where little was on the line, the Reds have lost just 10 of their last 129 league outings.
For City, defeat at the hands of Leicester was their 10th in just 36 top-flight fixtures.
Of course, early-season results can be deceiving, and we have certainly seen some unusual scorelines in the first weeks of a campaign that promises to be like no other.
However, it is not just that maximum points tally that has Liverpool supporters full of excitement once again, it is that their team has already shown every quality required of a champion.
Against Leeds United, Klopp’s men overcame Marcelo Bielsa’s hyper-aggressive man-marking system and the concession of three goals from as many shots to ensure they got off to a winning start.
At Chelsea, it was all about showing patience in the face of a deep-lying defence and then keeping the opposition at arm’s length as they pushed for a way back into the game.
And here, Liverpool were asked to work their way through an aggressive and coordinated Arsenal press having conspired to give away an opening goal that only invigorated their opponents.
Yet, even in the opening stages of this latest test it was simply obvious that, just like the teams before them, Arteta’s side weren’t quite in a fair fight.
Manchester United legend and Sky Sports co-commentator Gary Neville said it best early on when he declared (possibly through gritted teeth): “This is the best half an hour of football I’ve seen from a team this season. Incredible from Liverpool.”
As they have so often done under Klopp, the Reds kept up that relentless standard beyond the 90th minute to ensure that all three points would be theirs.
What’s more, they also took the chance to prove that, even after ending a 30-year wait for the title, the desire to continue improving is strong at Anfield.
If City’s status as favourites owes anything to the idea that they have greater squad depth than the champions, then Diogo Jota’s contribution off the bench proved that it may well be time for a rethink.
Making his Premier League debut for Liverpool, the Portuguese managed a goal, three shots and five touches in the opposition box in just 10 minutes on the pitch, all while showing a desire to do the dirty work that makes him look a perfect fit for his new team.
It was a cameo every bit as impressive as that of Thiago Alcantara, who produced a memorable 45-minute exhibition of his metronomic quality at Stamford Bridge on debut just over a week ago.
Should both players deliver on their early promise, then Klopp may well have pulled off the seemingly impossible in improving on a squad that has collected 196 points over the last two Premier League season.
And, while remains to be seen whether such high standards are even necessary to defend the title this term, what shouldn’t be in doubt is that Liverpool have marked themselves out as the early frontrunners.
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