Sky Sports’ Paul Merson writes the latest column on Liverpool’s return to form after their shock defeat at Bournemouth, Chelsea’s perfect week and the title race as Leandro Trossar and Martin Odegaard shone in Arsenal’s win against Fulham while Man City beat Crystal Palace
from Paul Merson, football pundit and columnist @PaulMerse
18:38 UK Wednesday 15 March 2023
Managers need to maintain a balance, as do players. Liverpool had a great result against Manchester United which will put them in the history books, but then you have to turn up and perform at Bournemouth.
When you watch the Bournemouth game you think, “What chance do Liverpool have against Real Madrid?” Needing to score at least three is a tall order, it would be one of the greatest Champions League comebacks of all time. Barcelona did it against PSG, but that was at home. It’s a far cry from cup holders. If it was two goals, you never know, but three… I don’t give them a chance.
That’s why wherever you go in the world, the Premier League is on display because one of the bottom three teams can beat one of the top teams. You can never get to the point where Bournemouth are resting everyone for next week’s game because they don’t think they can beat Liverpool. That doesn’t happen in the Premier League and that’s why it’s the best league in the world.
Tottenham have won five of their last seven in the Premier League. They got a shock result in midweek against AC Milan, but that’s football. They came back to beat poor Nottingham Forest away, who are like chalk and cheese home and away. The top four is in their hands and if they win their next two games against Southampton and Everton, they will be hard to chase.
Chelsea is a dangerous animal
Chelsea are a dangerous animal, they have some incredible players and they just need to click – at times against Leicester they did.
Bad teams don’t score goals like them, two of them were incredible. Kai Havertz’s strike has to go down as one of the goals of the season, you don’t see that on Sunday mornings.
It’s been an outstanding week for Chelsea, with wins over Leeds, Dortmund and Leicester, and now with Everton at home they can handle it. Football is a funny game, how can it change so quickly, you only have to look at Liverpool’s loss to Bournemouth.
Graham Potter switched to three at the back and it worked. It took him a while to get it right, but it’s 100 percent better than with four on defense.
And he still hasn’t caught Reece James. Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced him on Saturday and played well, but when James returns you have one of the best in the business alongside Ben Chilwell on the left. You have to get your full backs high up the pitch and James and Chilwell are very good attacking players.
Mateo Kovacic came back recently, I’m a big fan of him and I play alongside Enzo Fernandez in midfield. Potter can then choose three of seven options up front that can wreak havoc on anyone. Don’t forget Thiago Silva is not playing either. James and Silva are Chelsea’s two best players.
Marc Cucurella has done very well lately. Sometimes he can dive, if you do that in his position on the left of the three then there is a safety net behind you if you don’t win the ball. For all three central defenders there is a safety net of each other.
If the Champions League quarter-final draw goes their way, apart from Man City and Bayern Munich, I don’t think many teams will want to play Chelsea. If they don’t meet those two, I think they’ll make it to the semis.
Trossard is an ‘incredible’ signing for just £27m
Arsenal’s first-half performance against Fulham was mind-blowing. It was like watching Manchester City in their prime and that was against a good Fulham side. It was scary. It was bordering on ridiculous.
It felt like they had at least two more players on the pitch, but what will win Arsenal the league is starting games well. I watched them at Leicester when they were under pressure for a result and they started well and were great.
Then they were at home to Bournemouth and started poorly. Against Fulham they started well and it’s a walk in the park. I don’t see how they will be stopped if they start well in games.
Gabriel Jesus’ return is a bit of a problem for Arsenal because the lad will want to play – he didn’t sign to be a bit role player like he was at Man City. It will cause problems in time, but right now it’s like another signing.
Leandro Trossar could play for Man City. This is an amazing signing for £27m. When his agent told him he was going to Arsenal for that fee, he must have thought, “Is this what I’m worth?!”
The lad could walk into Manchester City’s squad on Tuesday and you wouldn’t know anything else, he’s that good. But Arsenal play like Man City, if you put them in a light blue team you would think they are. You don’t get a bigger compliment than that.
Odegaard has more influence than De Bruyne
As we speak today, Martin Odegaard is the best midfielder in the Premier League. He has more of an effect on Arsenal’s team than Kevin de Bruyne did at Man City. We have to talk at times and currently Odegaard is number one without a doubt. I’m not saying he’s a better player than De Bruyne, but Odegaard is making more of an impact at the moment.
Palace away is a tough game, but Leipzig away is a bigger game for Man City. If Manchester City win the league and not the Champions League, it’s not a great season. They bought Erling Haaland to win the Champions League rather than the Premier League for the fifth time in six years. And De Bruyne will play against Leipzig.
The title race will come down to the games. Whoever plays first on the weekend will have a huge advantage. Had Arsenal played Fulham first and beaten them as they did, they would have been eight points clear of Man City, who had to go to Crystal Palace.
City play first, win and then Arsenal are only two points ahead and their game becomes more difficult at Fulham.
If Arsenal play first and they continue to lead by eight points and City need to win to get to five before you know it, it will take its toll. It happened to Tottenham and Leicester in 2016.
If Arsenal win their next two games against Palace and Leeds I don’t see how they can be stopped. They will have at least a five-point lead with eight games to go. They have to play Man City but they will have to win this game.