Sport Guard

February 3, 2019

The EPL title chase


Liverpool’s Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino (C) celebrates after scoring their second goal with Liverpool’s English defender Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) and Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium in London, on September 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO /

By Patrick Omorodion

I am not a die hard fan of foreign football leagues. I am  no one who will lose sleep or appetite because one team in the five major European football leagues in England, Italy, Spain, Germany or France lose or draw a game. I am also not into sports betting which is the passion of most young Nigerians these days.

However, I love good football and follow the leagues anytime they are on, majorly as a sports journalist who must report the games for the teeming fans who read Vanguard newspapers with passion.

That is why today I want to talk about the English Premier League, EPL and the hot chase for its 2018/2019 title. Of all the major European leagues I listed earlier, the EPL is the most unpredictable because you can never predict rightly which club will emerge winner at the end of the season.

As at today, it is only the EPL that has the least number of points separating the top team from the second team. In the EPL, Liverpool top with 61 points from 24 matches while Tottenham toppled Manchester City from second position after pipping Newcastle United 1-0 yesterday from 25 games.

READ ALSO: Five things we learned from the Premier League

If Pep Guardiola’s wards are able to overpower Arsenal today on home ground and garner 59 points, they will return to second place behind Liverpool and further reduce the difference between them and Liverpool to just two points.

The other leagues are not less interesting though but it is almost always a two horse race. This season in Italy’s Serie A, the arrival of workaholic Cristiano Ronaldo has left Juventus as runaway leaders. They lead with 59 points, 11 points more than the second placed Napoli, made famous by the legendary Diego Armando Maradona in the late 80s and early 90s.

Even the Spanish LaLiga which claims to be the best league in Europe and the world, the winner is always known ahead of time, with Barcelona always sure of nicking it except in years when Real Madrid, with Ronaldo came out smoking.  Without Ronaldo this season, Real Madrid are a shadow of themselves, leaving Atletico Madrid to challenge Lionel Messi and company for the title. Even at that, the difference between them and Barcelona is five points, one more than you have in the EPL.

In the Bundesliga, foremost club and defending champions, Bayern Munich are surprising playing second fiddle behind Borussia Dortmund who have 49 points to Bayern Munich’s 42, seven clear points.

The weakest league among the top five is the French Ligue 1 where Paris Saint-Germain are already looking good for the title even though they lead surprise club, Vincent Enyeama’s former club, Lille with 10 points, one less than in Serie A where Juventus lead with 11 points.

Coming back to the EPL which Nigerian followers are arguably the most vociferous around the world. I am yet to see any country where fans celebrate their EPL or other leagues’ clubs or even fight with dangerous weapons as much as my beloved Nigeria.

When it is time to celebrate, these fans go as far as buying a live cow which they paint in their team’s colours or dress it in specially made clothe designed with the team’s colours.

That said and done, the EPL title is gradually slipping away and Liverpool are looking good to grab it for the first time in 25 years. They did that under manager Kenny Dalglish on April 28, 1990 after beating Queens Park Rangers 2-1 at Anfield.

It is usually said that any EPL team which leads before the Christmas break usually succumbs going into the New Year following the choked fixtures from the many schedules they are faced with on the English football calendar.

However, they have refused to let go that leadership position a month and a week after Christmas. Supporters of other clubs are still pessimistic about a Liverpool victory at the end of the season but their own fans believe the title is theirs to lose at the rate they are going.

If Manchester City beat Arsenal today to close the gap to two points. Liverpool are capable of increasing it again to five when the play away to 12th placed  West Ham United tomorrow and further maintain the lead when they host AFC Bournemouth in a Week 26 tie on Saturday.

In Nigeria, during matches when fans have high hope of their team winning a game but the team turn out to be trailing their opponent with a few minutes left and there are no assurance that the equaliser or a winning goal will come, they start sneaking out of the stadium one after the other. That time, all you hear from the opposing fans, is “one by one, dem don dey go”. The same thing I can say that, gradually the Jurgen Klopp’s boys are inching their way to the EPL title. And after 25 years. That is why the victory will be resounding.

Die hard fans of Arsenal, Mancherster United and Chelsea, not even defending champions. Manchester City who are better positioned to upstage Liverpool, believe Liverpool will still stumble along the way. With 13 weeks to the end of the season, one may want to believe them though.

However, considering that the same thing was said about Leicester City when they shot into the lead in the 2015/2016 and held on till the end to become champions, Liverpool may shock the doubting Thomases and hold on till the end.

And the hurdles they have to face after West Ham tomorrow to achieve the feat are Manchester United, Watford, Everton, Burnley, Fulham, Tottenham, Southampton, Chelsea, Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and Wolvehampton Wanderers in that order. Time will tell if Klopp and his Liverpool army will smile last.