So Liverpool won the title at Stamford Bridge, just like they did in 1986, except this time Kenny Dalglish just had to be interviewed at full-time, rather than score the winning goal. Given Chelsea had all but ended Liverpool’s chances of being crowned champions in 2014, it seems fair enough that they returned the favour this season by inflicting Manchester City’s eighth defeat of the season (as many as Arsenal) and ensuring Liverpool would be title winners with seven games remaining, two sooner than any other champion in English football history. The Reds’ 30-year wait for their 19th had become the longest-running storyline in domestic football, eclipsing Manchester United’s 26-year wait between 1967 and 1993. Storied clubs going a long time between titles is a sort of footballing dry rot that can settle in before you notice but then condemn teams to decades of pain.
That baton is now passed on to … maybe Arsenal? The Gunners have now gone 16 years without winning the Premier League; as the Invincibles celebrated on the Highbury turf in 2004, who would have dared predict that it would be their last for more than a decade and a half. Even Manchester United have gone seven years now, while Tottenham will clock up 60 years if they don’t win it next year. And spare a moment for Sheffield United, whose only title came in 1898, meaning it was closer to the birth of John Keats than it is to now. Who says there’s no romance in the game anymore?
If seeing Liverpool celebrate the title has made you feel like it’s been a long time since a team in red has won the league, then you are right. It has been. Manchester United’s last title under Alex Ferguson in 2012/13 was the previous instance, with his departure ushering in a six-year spell of blue champions (Man City, Chelsea, Leicester City, Chelsea, Man City, Man City), the longest spell without a dominant red team since 1958-63 (Wolves, Wolves, Burnley, Tottenham, Ipswich, Everton). Like now, Liverpool were the team to end that sequence in 1964, but then Manchester United became champions in 1965. Surely history won’t repeat itself that precisely?
The team who mustered the most Expected Goals in matchweek 31 were Chelsea with 4.4. That does not reflect well on Manchester City’s defence, given they allowed their opponents only 25.2 in the entirety of last season. So, well done Chelsea, but not everyone gets to face a team as generous as the deposed champions. Take Manchester United for instance, who this week had to take on a Sheffield United team who may rarely cut loose up front but have fielded one of the most impressive defensive units in the league this season. That didn’t matter to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s revamped, refreshed and refocused United though. Anthony Martial became the first Frenchman to score a hat trick for the club, assisted twice by the most generous man of 2020, Marcus Rashford. With a favourable run-in and a midfield that can now field Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, out-of-form Leicester in third now look like valid target for United to pursue and overtake. When Liverpool won their 18th league title in 1990, Manchester United finished 13th and Alex Ferguson’s job was saved only by success in the FA Cup. 30 years on, United still have a chance in the cup, and face Norwich in the quarter-final this weekend, but their league prospects look far more positive.
When lockdown started, there was a lot of talk about how people could use the time to reinvent themselves, look for new hobbies, add a few recipes. One footballer who looks to have taken this lifestyle adjustment to heart is Andy Carroll at Newcastle. A man who has managed to play more than 20 games only once in the last seven seasons, someone whose talent has been blunted by repeated injuries, has somehow conjured up a new role as a subtle creator for his club, clocking up four assists in his last eight Premier League appearances. Now, because this is still Andy Carroll, those eight games do stretch back to early December but even so, it’s still as many as Mesut Ozil has managed in 42 matches across the last two seasons. Owner of the most avant-garde facial hair in top-level football, Carroll is a changed man. Look out for his subtle touches and early 19th-century style at a football ground (on your television) soon.
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