The 2013/14 Premier League season could see up to six teams challenge for the title and at least three certainly but how important to the eventual winners will the their results against their title rivals be?
Firstly, in terms of points it actually doesn’t make all that much difference who you beat or lose to – three points are three points and there’s no point beating a title rival one week and then losing to a relegation struggler the following week.
Manchester United’s goalless draw with Chelsea was a showing more that neither side wanted to lose; a draw was acceptable because they know how much a defeat to a title rival shapes the season, especially this early on.
Liverpool however, when they hosted Manchester United recently to beat the champions 1-0 at Anfield, showed mentally it makes a big difference – to the momentum, morale and belief of the squad. We saw that with United’s victory over Manchester City last term and we saw it the season before with United’s huge defeat at Old Trafford losing 6-1.
A win keeps the momentum going – getting into their stride on a good run of form makes the players feel invincible, it boosts their confidence and fuels their belief – the closer they get to the target, the hungrier they are to reach it. Right now Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool squad feel like they can do, despite the fact they finished 7th last term. A victory over a rival fosters belief.
Synonymously, a defeat to a rival means the manager has to effective start again – he has to push the reset button, draw a line under the defeat and lift his players heads back up. David Moyes will have been doing that in the run up to United’s next fixture – getting his team reorganized and recharged after the international break.
Sometimes, however, a defeat of that nature can also galvanize a team, make them stronger and solidify their unity in the dressing room and on the pitch. If they come through adversity together, they may come back twice as strong but it all derives from the manager and his ability to use the defeat as a spark to fire his players up.
I don’t expect any team to go unbeaten this season – I also don’t expect any team to beat all of the other contenders for the title, including those challenging for the top four. Any of those six teams in the mix is capable on their day of beating any of the others and I think we’ll see that play out this term.
Overall, the best way to win a championship is through consistency and excellence – it’s not going to matter who beats whom of the top teams if one team is consistently winning their games and not dropping points elsewhere.
However, the Premier League has twenty teams that, again, on their day, are capable of beating anyone else – Hull beat Manchester City 3-2 just a couple of weeks ago which should tell you something about the quality of the league overall compared to foreign leagues where an equivalent scenario would almost never happen.
Whether it’s at the top of the table or the bottom – especially in the latter stages of the season – beating rivals for the title, the top four or, equally, for survival starts to become like a ‘six-point’ victory. The other team drops three points and your team picks them up. But, again, it’s still only three points.
Then again, if both teams draw the fixture, that still doesn’t help the situation because the other teams can capitalize on that – when United and Chelsea drew, City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are the beneficiaries of that.
Ultimately, the ‘big games’, those games scheduled for Super Sunday’s with the media hype that comes along with it, do have their significance in a title race – Arsenal, for example in recent years have a poor or mediocre record against their top four rivals and there may well be a correlation between that and their lack of titles.
At the end of the day, as they say, it’s just three points but, in the context of the season, some of those three carry more meaning because they were harder fought for and sweeter to win. There’s a reason they call it a ‘fight’ or a ‘race’, however, and just like a fight, winning the battle doesn’t always ensure you win the war and, in football, the race is a marathon, not a sprint.