So Saturday sucked but here’s the good news: We are eight points clear of fifth-place Manchester United with only six games to play. Put another way, we’re closer to first than fifth. Put still another way: We could be Liverpool.
The Reds are in third place right now, but have played two more games than fourth-placed City and fifth-placed United. If United wins both their games in hand, they would go three points clear of Liverpool and knock the Reds down into the Europa League.
Of course, that’s no sure thing. United has a brutal schedule left while Liverpool’s is comparatively soft. But the Reds are now paying the price for two signature weaknesses that have plagued them all season: First, their defense is ropey as hell. Second, the dropoff from their best XI to their bench players is huge. In this sense, they’re very like Spurs last season.
When we had to deviate from our best XI at all, we had no clue what to do. To be sure, we still have some of that this season—I have no idea what we would do if Christian Eriksen or Dele Alli were hurt for any length of time and our attack during Harry Kane’s absence did not exactly inspire a great deal of confidence. That said, we have played long chunks of this season without Kane, Erik Lamela, Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Danny Rose. That’s arguably seven of our best XI and yet here we are in second.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have had similarly awful injury issues but it has not only scuppered their early-season title challenge but now has them in the position of having to hope United or City drop points. They no longer control their own destiny in the hunt for the Champions League.
This, then, is (to me) further proof of how spectacularly Maurico Pochettino has done this season. He’s working with a significantly poorer club than Jurgen Klopp and yet has managed to build a deeper team and has adapted his approach as needed to compensate for key players missing games through injury. I remember seeing a lot of hype before this season about how this season would feature the deepest pool of managerial talent in Premier League history with Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola arriving and Klopp getting his first full Premier League season. The most hyped names were, inevitably, Conte, Guardiola, Klopp, and Jose Mourinho. At the time, I didn’t mind too much because all four of those managers have won major domestic or continental trophies (or both). Poche hasn’t. But based on this season’s performance it’s hard not to place Pochettino right in the thick of things with those four world-class talents.