I admit it: I ducked out of my least favourite month of the football season, January, preferring the search for reinvigorating winter sunshine thousands of miles away.
I don’t regret it but at least my re-introduction to ‘normal life’ involved a great game: Manchester City against Liverpool, two teams now nine points adrift of their targets with different hopes of meeting them.
But (perhaps it’s the second-season syndrome?) the Champions don’t appear to have the same drive that they developed in the previous campaign. They seem more cautious to me and without the ‘gear-changers’ to bring off the bench.
I don’t think the club bought well last summer whilst others, Manchester United, with Van Persie, and Chelsea did. The troubles at Stamford Bridge are not about the quality of players available.
City brought in Garcia, Nastasic, Rodwell and Sinclair: you might well ask who the latter is (his partner is the bimbo Helen Flanagan from “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” and they both live uncomfortably close to yours truly). In football terms, they’re little better than ‘squad-strengtheners’.
Balotelli was shown the exit door last week, six months on from when he should have been, but it was interesting that, despite their riches, City brought no one in.
Is that because Mancini is waiting for the summer or is the club waiting for a new manager to have the required input? Mourinho…
United mustn’t be complacent but I doubt Sir Alex will allow that to happen. They’re clear favourites to wrench the title across the city.
Meantime, Liverpool have lesser ambitions, clawing back the nine points that separate them from Tottenham and fourth place, the Champions League berth.
A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have given tuppence for their chances and, clearly, they’re still the outsiders of the chasing pack that includes Everton and Arsenal.
However, shrugging aside that appalling Cup defeat at Oldham — stuff happens — I think the signs are very encouraging. They could have won at Arsenal in midweek and they should have won at City on Sunday where, in most areas of the pitch, they were the better team: ‘most’ areas…
Pepe Reina has become fallible. He should have done better with both Arsenal goals, yes even Walcott’s fierce drive, and what on earth was he doing out on the edge of his area that allowed Aguero to equalise so brilliantly?
I don’t quite understand why Liverpool didn’t buy Jack Butland from Birmingham ahead of Stoke City. If Reina has a ‘move’ in mind and doesn’t improve, Liverpool will soon need a new keeper anyway.
Burt elsewhere there is little wrong. Downing and Henderson are vastly better, Sturridge is showing instant signs of telepathy with Suarez and who knows what Coutinho will bring to the table next weekend when he’s likely to make his debut. I’ve an increasing feeling Liverpool will nick 4th.