Dominance of Manchester City and Dublin has 'blue' hope almost away
IT’S the hope that kills you...but the lack of hope is even worse.
A Manchester United-supporting colleague was almost despondent, certainly apathetic on Saturday, when chatting about the new English soccer season.
Even on Monday morning he exhibited no enthusiasm, despite the Red Devils having spanked Chelsea 4-0 in their league opener.
It wasn’t always thus. A decade ago he infamously shrieked with delight when Wayne Rooney scored a late equaliser against the same opponents – in the Community Shield. The office walls are still reverberating.
Of course, ManU were the reigning champions of England then, having completed a hat-trick of titles earlier in the year, and had also been in the last two Champions League Finals, beating Chelsea the previous year.
They’re not even in the Champions League this season, and the likelihood of them winning the Premier League is slim.
Yet Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s will be better this season than last, having addressed some of their defensive issues with quality signings in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and also added a pacy Welsh winger (Daniel James), who scored on his debut.
However, even had they improved their central midfield and attacking positions, they still wouldn’t come close to Manchester rivals City.
None of this is to gloat at the Old Trafford outfit, of course.
No one will challenge City’s bid to complete their own title treble, in my estimation.
Liverpool were absolutely amazing in the last campaign, but they still fell short of City.
Consider who the Reds dropped points against: City (losing somewhat unluckily at the Etihad after being fortunate to draw at Anfield); away to third-placed Chelsea; away to Arsenal (fifth); away to ManU (sixth); away to Everton (eighth); home to Leicester (ninth); and away to West Ham (10th).
So, to be clear, Liverpool were absolutely perfect against the bottom half of the table, collecting 60 points from those 20 matches.
At Anfield, they only failed to win twice, against the City sides of Manchester and Leicester.
And still City were better.
Consider who City dropped points against: Liverpool (drawing at Anfield after missing a late penalty); a draw at Wolves (who were excellent all season against the top six); losses away to Chelsea, Leicester, and Newcastle (13th) – and a home defeat to Crystal Palace (12th).
Three of those defeats came during a dreadful December when Liverpool were perfect and pulled clear, only for City to win 19 of their last 20 league matches to retain the title by a point.
This is the key point: can you really imagine City losing at home to Palace again? Or at Newcastle? Or even at Chelsea?
The loss of long-serving skipper Vincent Kompany and the long-term knee injury to Leroy Sane are setbacks, although the latter might have been sold to Bayern Munich anyway.
Besides, if Kevin de Bruyne is fit enough to play 30-plus league games this time around then City will remain unstoppable. If they can defeat visitors Spurs this weekend, City will surely go on to equal and then extend their record of 18 consecutive league wins (from the 2017-18 season).
Liverpool will be very good again, but it’s hard to see them collecting as many points as last season, and their involvement in the Club World Cup in December could have an adverse effect on their league campaign.
The parallels with Gaelic football, and another set of dominant light blues – Dublin – are clear. The sense that the season is over before it starts, or at least that the final outcome is a foregone (five-won) conclusion.
The Dubs have already won the last four All-Irelands and are raging hot favourites to make that a first ever five-in-a-row.
The lack of hope for and in other counties is probably an explanatory factor for the low attendance at Croke Park for last Sunday’s second semi-final, between Kerry and Tyrone.
The Kingdom will believe they can dethrone the Dubs, as would the Red Hands had they managed to hold on to their half-time lead – but few outside those counties would share such optimism.
For many supporters, especially some from Tyrone who were playing their 10th Championship match of the summer, there was a sense of pointlessness. Even victory on Sunday would surely only delay the inevitable, defeat by Dublin, who have won their last 22 Championship games in a row and are unbeaten in 35.
Of course there’s no point giving up, but catching up on Dublin – or City – isn’t just a matter of ‘working harder’ and the Metropolitans’ superior natural ability.
The success of both is partly a numbers game.
For Dublin, that means in both financial and population terms, with well-funded and well-organised coaching bringing through a conveyor belt of talent. The Dubs have the biggest talent pool by far, and the cream will rise to the top.
As regards City, phenomenal levels of investment have built a brilliant squad, superbly coached and managed by Pep Guardiola.
City did spend far more than Liverpool, even with the latter’s bigger investment last summer – but ManU have spent just as much as City, just nowhere near as well.
The gap between City and United was the same as that from United to the relegation zone - 32 points.
Most likely that will be reduced this season, but ManU, like everyone else, are really aiming for top four rather than top spot.
It’s similar in Gaelic football: former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger talked about ‘the top four trophy’ and Dublin’s dominance has boosted the importance of the provincial championships because of triumph in those bringing a ticket into the ‘Super Eights’.
Kerry may feel they can be the Liverpool in this scenario but that is likely to mean them finishing runners-up.
It’s understandable that there are those who laughed at Liverpool (and Tyrone), but as everyone continues to be ‘blue’ away they really should be crying.