Hello! And welcome back to Tactically Naive, SB Nation’s weekly soccer column. Today we answer the big questions: Is Ian Wright? Is Mark Bright? And should Stan Collymore?
Is it on?
As Lenin said, there are months where no Premier League rounds happen, and then there are weeks when two Premier League rounds happen. Nobody knew what he was talking about at the time, of course, and he soon moved on to calling left wingers infantile.
Now we know. On Tuesday, Manchester City lost — unthinkably, inexplicably, hilariously — to Newcastle United. That, you sensed, was it. All Liverpool had to do was beat Leicester City at home, and the gap would stretch out to seven points ... but they didn’t. They drew. It only stretched to five.
Is it on?
Still, five’s pretty good, right. Right. But then, come Sunday, Manchester City shook themselves out of their funk and, with a little help from Arsenal, picked up another win. The gap, temporarily, was down to just two. But still, all Liverpool had to do was beat West Ham away. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?
It was a problem. Again, Liverpool could only draw. That notional seven point gap now stands at just three points. One win. And if City beat Everton this coming Wednesday, they’ll be back on top. At least temporarily.
Come on. Is it on?
Are Liverpool faltering? Their squad, suddenly, looks awkwardly thin. Since the turn of the year, they’ve kept just one clean sheet in six, and that came against not-exactly-noted-goal-plunderers Brighton. Was that defence always over performing? Is it regressing to the generous? And come to think of it, that vaunted front three isn’t exactly overwhelming teams the way we know it can.
Jurgen Klopp is making all manner of strange squeaky noises. City, meanwhile, are making ominous noises, and they have the squad depth to back it up. And the Champions League is coming back. And that game against Manchester United is looking trickier than it did a while ago. And, and, and —
So it’s on? That’s what you’re saying?
Well. Perhaps this is just over-interpretation, a desperate attempt to make the natural ebbs and flows of a league season into a story. Nobody is perfect for 38 games, and Liverpool are top because they’ve been closest to perfect out of anybody. City just lost to Newcastle, after all. Newcastle.
In any case, when it comes to title races, the quality of on-ness is a tricky thing to pin down. There are lots of very clever people who will tell you that form doesn’t really exist in sport. There are, contrariwise, lots of people who will tell you that form is extremely important. So too is feeling, and momentum, and all the other things that seem to exist as part of the ride.
In any case, even if it may not in fact be on, is it enough that it feels on? More on than it was, at any rate. If the experience of sport is just elaborate storytelling pegged to largely predictable events, then on-ness inheres not in the events but in how we treat them. How we describe and understand them. And so if we decide it’s on, it’s on. Even if it isn’t on at all.
Get on with it.
Fine. Fine. It’s on. Are you happy now? The Premier League title race is on. And the only way it could get more on is if somebody associated with Liverpool foolishly uses the s-word. You know the one. Rhymes with “clip”.
Go on, Virgil. Say it. Say it. Say it.
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