By Ivan Lim
Before I wish all of you who have followed Football Siao a happy new year and make resolutions I’m not likely to keep, I’d like to look back at a year that has been replete with drama and excitement.
This year – 2020 saw Liverpool finally winning the title they had craved for 30 painful years. Liverpool’s first English Premier League title seemed a forgone conclusion even before the coronavirus-stricken season became suspended in March with the lockdown of the United Kingdom, but six months before that, when the teams had played just five matches each of the 2019/20 season, I said that Liverpool would win the title.
It wasn’t a lucky guess; I had watched the way Liverpool and the rest of the teams played and I was cocksure – after Matchday Five – that they would win the title. That forecast led my Siao Mates to call me the “Gold-Maned Oracle”, but the sobriquet was finally validated when Liverpool eventually lifted the Premier League trophy.
However, I never saw it as a bold prediction. I felt it was plain for all to see – even at that early stage – that Liverpool were going to be champions. I think it was simply because my view of the matches was untainted by any emotional attachment to any team. Liverpool fans accused me of attempting to jinx their team while Manchester United fans berated me for backing their great rivals. One United supporter even labelled me a closet Liverpool fan!
It’s much closer this season. While the year ends with champions Liverpool at the top of the table, they are just three points ahead of second-placed Manchester United, who have a game in hand.
I think Liverpool will retain the title, though I can’t say it with the same amount of conviction I had last season. However, my colleagues at Football Siao reminded me that I had predicted in July last year – before the start of the current season – that Manchester United would challenge Liverpool for the title.
So this season has been way more entertaining for me than last season, and not just because we are about to witness a real battle between Liverpool and Manchester United, but for these reasons:
United’s remarkable rise: How Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose managerial career appeared to be in serious peril less than two months ago, managed to bungle his way to just a win short of Liverpool is a wonderful mystery to me. If United somehow wrest the title from Liverpool’s grasp, they have to reward Bruno Fernandes with a statue at Old Trafford, and make a plush toy of Solskjaer. In the meantime, perhaps a pair of voodoo dolls of central defenders Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof will enhance their title hopes.
Chelsea’s fading hopes: Chelsea, after breaking the bank with the signing of eminent talents such as Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz, appeared to be serious challengers for the title until Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp called them the real title favourites. Since then, Frank Lampard’s side have lost three and drawn one of their last five matches. I’m not sure if Klopp’s declaration was mind games on his part, but if so, it would rival that of Sir Alex Ferguson’s when the great Scot was boss of Manchester United. Chelsea have since dropped to sixth place, and there have been calls for Lampard’s dismissal as their title hopes fade.
Tottenham’s empty promise: A mere fortnight ago, Tottenham Hotspur were involved in a top-of-the-table clash against Liverpool. After impressive wins over Arsenal and Manchester City, it looked like Jose Mourinho had turned Spurs into a footballing force. The partnership of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min was a joy to watch and easily as engaging as any of the best K-dramas I’ve watched this year. At one stage, Son’s goal tally was as high as that of the entire team of their North London rivals Arsenal. However, Mourinho was left sulking and insisting the “best team” lost after their defeat against the champions. A loss at Leicester City and a draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers following that has left them languishing in seventh place. While it remains fairly early in the season, Spurs are already showing their fans that they are the handsome boyfriend who will repeatedly “cheat their feelings”.
The Invisibles: After defeating Chelsea to win the FA Cup and stealing the Community Shield from Liverpool, Arsenal had such a promising start to the season. However, their form has been indifferent following a defeat at the hands of Liverpool in just their third match of the season. They were 15th at one stage, but back-to-back victories – including a 3-1 win against Chelsea, saw them climb to 13th. I’m not sure if my fellow Siao Mate Noah Tan still wants Mikel Arteta out, but the Spaniard’s exit may be the best insurance if the once Invincibles (the only team to remain undefeated in the Premier League, in the 2003/04 season) do not intend to become invisible in the Premier League next season.
Silence of the City: Where did Manchester City go? OK, they’re eighth in the league with two matches in hand and could potentially move to second or third if they claimed all six points. But they’ve been awfully quiet. Last season, they appeared to exist only for the benefit of Manchester United fans who desperately needed someone to stop Liverpool. With Manchester United now actually challenging for the title, Manchester City have become as relevant as Leicester City – to the majority of Singapore’s football fans. Will we hear more from Pep Guardiola in 2021? I don’t care. I suspect not many of you do.
What will happen in 2021? Apart from having said that Liverpool will probably win the title with Manchester United keeping them honest till the bitter end, I really don’t know. The season has been too hard to predict with its topsy-turvy table turns and shock results.
But what do I hope for in 2021? For this league to remain as unpredictable as it has been since it started, of course. I’d love to see another result similar to that of Aston Villa’s 7-2 demolition of Liverpool, or Spurs 6-1 destruction of Manchester United. But the one result I feel will be pivotal to the entire season will happen in just over two weeks: When champions Liverpool host their bitter rivals and title challengers Manchester United on Jan 18. I hope to see the Anfield outfit at their very best, and I pray that the Red Devils give them the fight of their lives. A United victory would embolden the rest of the title challengers, and that would keep things very exciting.
A Liverpool win, on the other hand, might restore order to the football universe, the champions’ lead and rearrange the order of the chasing pack, which would still be fun. However, it could mark the restart of Liverpool’s domination of their opponents (not great, unless you’re a Liverpool fan) or cause United to fall by the wayside in the manner of Arsenal and Spurs following their defeats at Anfield (not good, especially if you’re a United fan).
Whatever the outcome, I hope it will be a memorable match that sets a positive tone for the rest of the season.
So here’s to a Happy New Year, and a fantastic 2021, whoever you’re supporting.
This article, “I hope Liverpool and Manchester United will continue their crazy fight through 2021”, originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.