Friday 23 August 2019

Paul McGrath: 'Why this will be the year Liverpool finally end their league title drought'

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp

Paul McGrath

I’m going for Liverpool to do what they just failed to do last May – and win the Premier League.

They were so close last season, and so many tight goal-line decisions went City’s way, that you have to feel Lady Luck might favour the Scousers this time around.

They will also be driven by hunger, the raw emotion to want to close that one-point gap that cost Liverpool so dearly in the final reckoning.

I’ve often written here about just how hard it has been, other than for Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United empire, to retain the Premier League.

Well now, Pep Guardiola’s boys are going for three in a row. I wonder when will their petrol run out?

Or will their desire and hunger be diverted to a tilt at the Champions League, the competition that Guardiola wants to win so badly to frank his term as boss at the Etihad?

I can’t see anyone closing the gap to these two, not in one season anyway.

It is going to take a lot of rebuilding among the rest of the ‘big six’ before they can challenge either Manchester City or Liverpool for supremacy.

Never mind rebuilding, Chelsea may have to take a step backwards to come forward again.

They’ve a club legend, but a rookie Premier League manager in Frank Lampard, learning about life with the big boys.

And they have lost their best player in Eden Hazard, while still being unable to sign any players because of their FIFA transfer ban.

The loss of Hazard will prove to be massive. I’ve written here before that I rate him in the next tier of players just behind Messi and Ronaldo – that’s how highly I think of the little Belgian wizard.

On his day, Hazard is unstoppable. Chelsea will be a lot more stoppable this season because he is not there.

I fear the best ‘Super Frankie Lampard’ can hope for is a good season of consolidation, with maybe a cup run somewhere.

And then he can get ready to stiffen the Blues’ squad next summer when he can dive into the transfer market again.

I don’t see Arsenal making any ground either. Their big signing, Nicolas Pepe, was coveted by many clubs when he decided to leave Lille.

Pepe chose the Emirates ahead of offers from Manchester United and Napoli and Arsenal supporters will be hoping for something special from their new man.

At 24, the winger is clearly a big Gunners’ investment for the future. He has blinding pace and great skill and will be a source of plenty of  entertainment.

Yet, as it seems to be every transfer window, it is Arsenal’s defence that needs stiffening before the deadline at 5pm next Thursday.

And what of Manchester United? Full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and winger Dan James are two confirmed signings along with Harry Maguire and I like them both.

Wan-Bissaka has a bit of presence about him and will get stuck in.

James is a classic Manchester United flair player – I suspect the Stretford End will take to him immediately.

As long as the duo do one thing quickly. Which is to adapt to the Manchester United way that you go out to win every game, and you produce a proper effort in every game.

Manchester United supporters can, and will, forgive any thing except one thing, which is a player coasting through a game.

They’ve seen too much of that over the last couple of seasons.

Of course, I expect the Red Devils to sign a player or two more before next Thursday.

They’ve bought centre-half Harry Maguire from Leicester City for a world record fee for a defender, but the one I’d have loved them to go after is centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli.

The finest tribute I can pay to Koulibaly is that he reminds me of Virgil van Dijk.

We often wonder about players adapting to the physicality of the Premier League.

Take it from me, this lad is a big, big man who has no problem throwing in a meaty tackle.

He would have been right at home in English football.

I think Spurs will be the team to stay closest to the big two and they have strengthened their squad with the addition of Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon.

I’ve love to see Ireland’s great new hope Troy Parrott get a game or two for them this season.

But to play, the Dublin teenager has to get past Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura, the man who scored a hat-trick in the second half of the Champions League semi-final.

Still, that’s the level now asked of young Irish footballers if they want to be with the top clubs. They truly have to climb a mountain.

As for relegation, well with a clear conscience I can go for Brighton to be relegated this season.

I actually predicted they would go down last term.

But Chris Hughton worked his magic and kept the Seagulls up.

Then the club repaid Chris by firing him in a disgraceful decision.

So I see them falling and maybe Norwich City and Bournemouth, two more clubs with small match-day revenues, will join them.

Perhaps my old club Aston Villa can stay up – and Sheffield United, with all their Irish lads, might do that too.

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