Paul Parker predicts his Premier League top five – and a Liverpool dynasty like the 1970s and 80s
With the Premier League title race already bubbling into a gloriously hard-fought race, Paul Parker dons his mystic hat and predicts the top five. Advance warning, Manchester United fans: your side doesn’t feature…
Manchester City have got that X-Factor. In Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, they have the Premier League’s two outstanding talents, while Pep Guardiola has won countless trophies with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. They are trying a new style in the Premier League – and I believe it will come off for them.
They score goals (the good), they concede goals (the bad) and they can be frustrated (the ugly). Guardiola will be able to fix those flaws – he will find City’s Plan B – but they have to strengthen defensively in January. He’s not happy with Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy – none of them appear able of grabbing the system – although Aleksandar Kolarov can do a job.
Not that the title will herald an era of Manchester City domination…
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Image credit: Reuters
Expect to see a Liverpool dynasty like the 1970s and 80s under Jurgen Klopp. This season’s Premier League will probably prove too much, but they will be the team to beat over the next five or six years. I repeat: we will soon have a dominant Liverpool.
Will they win the league every season? No, but that supremacy will extend into the cup competitions and into Europe. They have a manager who understands European competition and has a real plan for this Liverpool side.
Currently, their downfall is in defence, with left-back the main problem. As good as James Milner has been, there’s only ever been one good left-back who is right-footed in the Premier League – and that’s Denis Irwin. Milner’s inclusion means they lack balance in attack and can’t utilise the space in wide areas.
Still, they are this season’s entertainers. All their exciting play comes through Philippe Coutinho. If you stop him, you stop Liverpool, but not many teams have been able to do that. He invites others into play, like Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino. Klopp may not be content with his striking options – despite the goals continuing to flow – but he won’t make changes until Liverpool get into the Champions League. He knows that will make a massive difference in the transfer market.
Until then, they will keep City honest, but I think second is the best they can hope for this season.
Liverpool celebrate Roberto Firmino's goal against Crystal Palace
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Arsenal’s weakness is, perversely, themselves. They are weighed down by their recent history.
We can’t say Arsenal’s weak mentality has suddenly disappeared. There’s no point saying they look hungrier, more solid and mentally strong – we won’t know until May rolls around whether they can keep it together. Only then will we say ‘it’s happened again’ or ‘wow, congratulations’ and all start eating humble pie.
But they do look the part. Alexis Sanchez has lit up the Premier League in October, while Santi Cazorla is nearing his return and will improve their midfield. Defensively, they are more solid with Shkodran Mustafi proving the perfect foil to Laurent Koscielny, and even Theo Walcott has done alright. (Then again, Walcott is Walcott and probably won’t make an actual difference when it matters.)
Arsenal’s best chance could come from playing Sanchez alongside Olivier Giroud. The workrate of Sanchez should permit Giroud more space, while his inclusion will prevent the Frenchman from becoming isolated. Giroud won’t score as many as Thierry Henry, but he does have a use in this side and I think this attack could work. But is Arsene Wenger brave enough to try it?
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring against Sunderland
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Tottenham are the most solid side I’ve seen this season. They have the strongest defence and midfield – with a combination of strength, power and technical ability – and everyone is prepared to work hard. Sure, they lack the creativity of the teams around them, but you will always fancy them when the score is 0-0.
However, they are missing an injection of pace in attack and are alarmingly short of goal threats. Dele Alli aside, who chips in occasionally, and the impressive Heung-min Son, you are really struggling to see where the goals are coming from in this Spurs team. They’ve had plenty of the ball in their recent outings, but they haven’t created anywhere near enough goalscoring opportunities.
Meanwhile, all the other sides in the title frame have goals in abundance from midfield. Manchester City have Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, Arsenal have Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, Chelsea have Eden Hazard, while Liverpool don’t even play a striker such is the end product from their midfield line.
It’s the only area that Spurs, desperately missing Harry Kane, are lacking. Their superb defence will carry them into the top four – but without goals, it’s hard to see a title challenge.
Tottenham Hotspur react after Ahmed Musa's equaliser for Leicester City
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I’m a massive fan of Antonio Conte. He’s stuck with what he knows, rather than pandering to John Terry’s needs and qualities, and switched to a three-man defence minus Terry.
However, I’m still not sure about the new system. I think it can work in other domestic leagues, but not in the Premier League. Conte isn’t blessed with the defenders he had at Juventus and Italy, so I fear teams will eventually find ways of exposing them – particularly out wide.
Marcos Alonso is a big weakness at left wing-back. He’s very slow, very ponderous, rarely motors forward from deep and tracks back without intent. He’s a poor one-on-one defender, highlighted by Dusan Tadic absolutely ripping his groins to pieces during the opening exchanges at Southampton, such was the regularity at which he was twisted and turned.
Victor Moses has been a revelation on the other flank, but he’s also waiting to be found out as he’s very much an attacking player. Somebody will pounce upon that soon, charging forward into the free space and stretch the three-man backline. After all, Moses has had more loans than Halifax bank – and there must be a reason for that.
Still, if Chelsea strengthen those positions in January – and Gary Cahill, who the jury is still out on, continues to improve – they will have a shot at reaching the top four.