Entering the final year of this decade, we decided to gaze into the crystal ball and make a few predictions for the Premier League in 2019.
Well, four in the Premier League and one in the Champions League, but a white lie never harmed anyone.
Liverpool ending the 29-year wait for a title
“We’ll never hear the end of it” is already becoming a popular refrain from neutral fans as Liverpool find themselves in the best position they’ve ever been to end their near three-decade wait for a league title, but Reds fans are extremely hesitant to count their chickens just yet.
While no team has failed to win the Premier League having been seven points clear on New Year’s Day, only two sides have failed to win the title in the last ten years having been top of the table on Christmas Day – and on both occasions, it was Liverpool, in 2008/09 and 2013/14.
The Anfield faithful will be wary of history repeating itself and being chased by one of the most fearsome squads ever assembled in the shape of Manchester City, who will not relinquish their crown without a fight. At the moment though, it’s hard to see Liverpool dropping in form enough for their rivals to catch up, but they are currently setting an unsustainable pace; unbeaten after 20 games, they are earning a frankly ridiculous 2.7 points per game and are projected to finish the season with a record-breaking 102 points.
If Liverpool don’t capture their first domestic title in 29 years this season, it’s fair to surmise they might never do it.
Man City giving up on defending the league
Speaking of which, can Man City return to their former glory and retain their title? A more pertinent question would be, can they even make a title race of it?
That would have sounded crazy at the start of the season, or even a month ago, but City have fallen off the pace big time since suffering their first league loss of the season to Chelsea on December 8th, winning just half of their league games since that night at Stamford Bridge.
Curiously, this season is playing out very similarly to some of the previous ones at Eastlands in recent times; looking absolutely unbeatable at the beginning of the season before fading away as the campaign wore on.
City went through the entirety of last season without suffering a dip, and it must be remembered they have been excellent for 90% of this campaign. There’s every chance they can get back into the title hunt, starting with Thursday’s massive clash with Liverpool.
Win and it’s back, but if they should lose… then what? Pep Guardiola is never one for throwing in the towel, but we may see the Catalan putting all his energies into winning the Champions League instead. If the domestic outlook becomes more bleak than it already is, then his focus will surely be set on winning his third European crown, and first since 2011.
The beginning of a new era at Manchester United
While things are going well at time of writing, there are still so many questions that Manchester United need to answer in 2019. Who is the permanent choice for manager? Who will the club pick for sporting director? Will the likes of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial be present for these new acquisitions?
Uncertainty can be a drag for football fans, but for United followers, the New Year should be a time of optimism. Rather than being held back by the negativity and chicanery of José Mourinho, the second half of the season can be enjoyed under the stewardship of club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
While the club are unlikely to win a major trophy come May, the Red Devils possess a manager who will play to the squad’s strengths. The significance of that is the Champions League knockout tie with Paris Saint-Germain can be anticipated with hope rather than dread, as can the rest of the campaign.
The pressure is off for now, but the real business begins in the summer. All eyes will be on the identity of the next manager, but the new sporting director – a first for United – is arguably the more important recruit. That person will be responsible for the club’s vision going forward, something that has been sorely missing at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and will take over transfer policy from the beleaguered and much-maligned Ed Woodward.
Five years since the Scot’s departure, the post-Ferguson era can finally get underway.
And the end of the Pochettino era at Spurs
Tottenham Hotspur may find themselves colliding with the Red Devils as the latter embark on their bright new future. Mauricio Pochettino is one of the most sought-after managers in football right now, and United look set to elbow their way to the front of the queue should he become available.
The Argentine’s annoyance at the club’s transfer policy is the worst kept secret in football, and without assurances that will change this month or in the summer, he could be on his way out the door. Whether he goes to Old Trafford or somewhere else, he will improve whichever team he goes to immeasurably.
If Daniel Levy and Spurs don’t do everything in their power to retain his services, then they truly are idiots and deserve the inevitable downfall that will come once Poch leaves the club. Four years ago the North London club got very lucky when Louis Van Gaal was swiped from them by Man United, forcing them to plump for their second choice.
Do Spurs have a comparable replacement already in mind? We’ll have to wait and see until later in 2019.
The Champions League’s first VAR controversy
When Mohamed Salah went off injured thanks to his hauling down by Sergio Ramos in the UEFA Champions League final, it’s generally accepted as the moment Liverpool lost the game. But what if the referee could have gone back and seen the foul committed by the Spaniard? What if the referee had then chosen to send him off? Could a Video Assistant Referee have evened up the playing field?
We can’t change the past, but we know that VAR will impact the future, given that UEFA recently announced it will be used in the knockout stages of the Champions League and Europa League this season. VAR went better than expected at the 2018 World Cup, but the question is: how long before the first cock-up in European club competition?
VAR has become much smoother since its initial implementation, but it’s not absolutely foolproof. And the bigger the stage, the bigger the controversy when a mistake is inevitably made. And in any case, there’s no guarantee that a referee would have sent off Ramos had he seen the incident again. It’s all about interpretation, innit?