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Thursday, February 25, 2021

There are five big lessons from Premier League restart, and Liverpool should take note

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Prices of petrol, others fall in January

By Elizabeth Adegbesan ENERGY Consumers paid less for Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, (petrol), National Household Kerosene (NHK) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas), in January...

After a long intermission on account of coronavirus, the Premier League staged its first full round of games in three months over the weekend.

The form book hasn’t so much been torn up as fed into a high-powered paper shredder then doused in petrol and set on fire for good measure. After such a long time without football, nothing is quite the same.

That leaves us with the job of attempting to interpret a whole new set of trends and patterns. The Premier League, once so familiar, is an alien landscape liable to shift and change.

With Liverpool making ready for the last big push in the title race, Jurgen Klopp will be keeping a close eye on how the rest of the league is adapting to the strange new world of Project Restart.

Here are some of the lessons he can take away from the opening round of fixtures.

The season’s big underachievers are still struggling

While the concept of a standard top six had gone out of the window before the season was suspended, many expected results to revert to the mean after such a long hiatus. Instead, the early signs suggest that the Premier League’s big underachievers are still in disarray.

Arsenal have lost their opening two games, almost certainly ending their hopes of Champions League qualification. Tottenham and Manchester United thrashed out an unhelpful draw on Friday evening, leaving insurgent teams like Wolves and Sheffield United to continue menacing them.

Liverpool still have to play Arsenal at the Emirates and Klopp will be confident of victory in what has, in the past, been a difficult game. Meanwhile, if they continue like this, Klopp can rest easy in the knowledge that Mikel Arteta, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have an enormous amount of ground to make up before they are serious threats.

Liverpool now face some subtly tricky fixtures

While Liverpool fans will be looking ahead to their trip to the Etihad in early July with anticipation, Manchester City are not the only tricky opponents on the horizon.

Though few would have been worried about Crystal Palace, Brighton and Newcastle when checking the fixtures before football made its comeback, those sides have marked the restart with assertive wins against Bournemouth, Arsenal and Sheffield United respectively.

Liverpool will still be expected to steamroller them, of course, but their shock defeat to Watford back in February should serve as a reminder that sometimes the fixtures which seem the most winnable are actually the trickiest.

The league’s top scorers will need time to warm up again

As for the players, it’s fair to say that even the best of them seem a little bit rusty. That’s understandable after three months on the sidelines, but it also makes things that much more unpredictable.

It’s been a quiet few days for the league’s most reliable goalscorers, for instance, with Jamie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sergio Aguero all failing to find the net in their first games back.

Many of the Premier League’s best players will need time to find their rhythm again and, with a number of youngsters introduced over the weekend, a fresh cast of stars could grab the spotlight instead.

Chelsea could be contenders next season

It’s easy to downplay their strengths given their inconsistency this term, but Chelsea are still a very good side. They showed it against Aston Villa on Sunday, coming back from a goal down to utterly dominate at Villa Park.

With Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech incoming this summer, they could be genuine rivals to Liverpool and Manchester City next season. Both Klopp and Pep Guardiola should keep close tabs on their performances between now and July.

The title is now five points away

Most importantly, in light of the Merseyside derby, Liverpool now know exactly how many points they need to win the Premier League.

Their draw at Goodison Park means that five points will be enough to clinch their first league title since 1990. All being well, Klopp could finish the job at the Etihad. Now that would be something!

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