Premier League leaders Liverpool have dropped points in their last two matches so should Reds fans be concerned as they prepare for their first game of 2021, at Southampton?
“If they were not creating chances then it would be a serious worry,” said BBC football expert and former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson. “But they are still making loads of them.
“If they had nicked a goal at Newcastle on Wednesday, which obviously they could and should have done, then they would have won, gone five points clear and everyone would be saying ‘who is going to stop Liverpool now?’
“Instead, it is a case of ‘well, they are only three points clear’. It’s a fine line, that changes people’s perceptions of how a team is doing when it really shouldn’t do. I’ve spoken to Liverpool fans who tell me ‘oh, we’re not doing well at the moment, and we can’t put away our chances’.
“My response is usually quite dry and along the lines of ‘no, they are only top of the league and with half their team missing. And that front three have been terrible for the past three years, haven’t they?’
“Being serious though, teams don’t win the league by 15 points every year. This is what usually happens with the ebb and flow over the course of a season when you are challenging for the title – and you have to remember Liverpool are not being beaten either.
“The reaction when they do drop points just shows you the standards they have set.”
Lawro is making predictions for all 380 Premier League matches this season, against a variety of guests.
This week, for the first set of Premier League fixtures of 2021, he is up against The Farm singer and Liverpool fan Peter Hooton.
The Farm have released a new digital EP of their 1990 hit All Together Now to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
The song is about the legendary game of football played between the trenches in World War I by Allied and German troops on Christmas Day 1914.
In turn, All Together Now was used as the inspiration for the annual Premier League Christmas Truce Tournament, in which Under-12 academy players from clubs across Europe meet for a tournament in Ypres, Belgium, and learn about the First World War.
“The Premier League championed it, and it was because of the song,” Hooton explained. “We went over in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the Christmas ceasefire, and played an acoustic version in a massive marquee at the award ceremony, where all the kids were.
“It is a brilliant event and it’s poignant and symbolic that the song has been adopted in that way – as part of the education for all academy kids, to show how football can unite people as well as divide them.
“All Together Now has also been adopted in South America as part of their Covid response this year. We keep on getting Spotify reports from Buenos Aires, Rio and Sao Paulo, that we are on in their top five on Spotify.
“It’s part of a campaign for PPE [personal protective equipment] that uses the song for its theme music. It’s great that the song’s message of friendship and camaraderie still resonates now, with what is going on around the world.”
Hooton has been going to watch Liverpool for more than 40 years and told BBC Sport: “In the late 1970s and 80s when I was growing up, it felt like our success was never-ending.
“You could never have thought there would be a 30-year gap in winning the league that we had until this year. That was unthinkable then, but things change don’t they? Things are cyclical, in life and in everything. Football is just another example of that.
“If we win another league title or European Cup, then you can compare this Liverpool side to our great teams of previous eras, because they will have that same consistency of doing it year after year.
“Everyone knows how hard it is to win the Premier League. To do it again would put them right up there.
“Ultimately I think any team is judged on the trophies it wins. For this Liverpool team it is all down to Jurgen Klopp. You can have a fantastic set of players but without that leader as your manager, you won’t achieve much.”
Anfield has again been closed to supporters because Liverpool has been moved into tier three of the government’s coronavirus restrictions.
Up to 2,000 fans were allowed in to watch home games against Wolves, Tottenham and West Brom in December, and Hooton got a ticket for the Spurs game through the club’s ballot system.
“It was a good one to get but it was an unusual experience, starting with walking up to the ground and all the pubs being shut,” he explained. “From hot dogs to horse manure, everything you’re used to seeing and smelling isn’t there.
“It was very eerie, and poignant really in many ways, but a great opportunity to get back into the ground.
“I enjoyed it, but it’s obviously nothing like being there when it’s full. It’s surreal, it was like going to watch the reserves or the youth team.
“I’m involved with Spirit of Shankly [the Liverpool supporters’ union] and we’ve always said football is nothing without the fans. Unfortunately we’ve found out in the past few months how true that is.”
|FRIDAY, 1 JANUARY|
|Everton v West Ham||x-x||1-1||2-2|
|Man Utd v Aston Villa||x-x||2-0||1-1|
|SATURDAY, 2 JANUARY|
|Tottenham v Leeds||x-x||2-0||2-3|
|Crystal Palace v Sheff Utd||x-x||2-1||3-0|
|Brighton v Wolves||x-x||1-1||1-2|
|West Brom v Arsenal||x-x||0-2||0-2|
|SUNDAY, 3 JANUARY|
|Burnley v Fulham||x-x||2-0||0-0|
|Newcastle v Leicester||x-x||0-2||1-2|
|Chelsea v Man City||x-x||0-2||1-2|
|MONDAY, 4 JANUARY|
|Southampton v Liverpool||x-x||1-2||0-2|
A correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth 10 points. The exact score earns 40 points.
FRIDAY, 1 JANUARY
Everton v West Ham (17:30 GMT)
There seems to be a lot of draws about at the moment – West Ham have drawn three of their past four matches and I think we will see another one here.
Hammers boss David Moyes would probably be happy with that – since leaving Goodison Park in 2013, he has lost on all four occasions he has come back with Manchester United, Sunderland and the Hammers.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-1
Peter on the title race: Our major rivals for the title this season are inevitably going to be Manchester City. Everton have put a couple of good runs together which is great but while they can go on a four-match winning run, they can also go on a four-game winless run. It is the consistency that you need, and City are the only other side who you know can put a run of 10-15 games together. Obviously I might be wrong and regret these words but I think Everton are challenging for the top four, rather than the title.
Peter’s prediction: West Ham were doing well but they have had a bit of a hiccup. My head says Everton, because they have had a bit more rest over Christmas, but my heart says a draw. 2-2
Man Utd v Aston Villa (20:00 GMT)
I will be at this game for BBC Radio 5 Live, and it will be a good test for Manchester United.
They nicked the points very late in the day against Wolves, which is a good sign. You never argue with a late goal for a one-niller because it feels like you have won by five.
This is another tough game for them, because Aston Villa have been extremely good, but I think being so close to Liverpool at the top will help United’s cause.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have got something about them at the moment that is helping them get across the line in games, and they only have to look at the table to know they are in the title race.
United haven’t really got going yet either and, although you could say the same about a few teams, they are probably looking around thinking “you know what, this league is there to be won”.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Peter’s prediction: United have got some brilliant players who just haven’t gelled as a team yet, but they are second in the league and everyone is asking “where has this come from?”. I watched them get that late win over Wolves but again it was all pretty pedestrian from them and they seem to be getting results because of individual performances. I think they are getting a bit cocky, thinking they are better than they are, and it is easy to underestimate Villa. 1-1
SATURDAY, 2 JANUARY
Tottenham v Leeds (12:30 GMT)
This is such an intriguing match because of the difference in the way both teams play, and how both managers see the game.
Every Premier League game is televised at the moment because of the restrictions on fans going to games but if they weren’t, this would be most people’s first pick of the one they want to watch.
Leeds completely dismantled West Brom earlier this week, and their game plan will be “up and at ’em” here too.
That is exactly how Tottenham like opposing teams to be, though. I just feel it will play into Jose Mourinho’s hands a little bit, as his side look to get back to winning ways.
It won’t be dull, though. It never is with Leeds – they have you on the edge of your seat, whichever end the ball is at.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Peter’s prediction: I like the way Leeds play and I thought it was fantastic the way they came to Anfield at the start of the season and just went “you are the champions, we are going to beat you”. I watched the highlights of their 5-0 win over West Brom and it was just incredible.
It is going to be interesting to see how this goes because Tottenham have dipped a bit in the past few weeks – they will try to get a goal and shut up shop, but you can’t do that against Leeds, because they are so attacking. 2-3
Crystal Palace v Sheff Utd (15:00 GMT)
Palace stopped the rot with their draw against Leicester. They went back to their old ways of being a bit more pragmatic, which I always thought they would do.
Sheffield United’s wait for a first win of the season goes on, though, and it gets harder and harder to make a case for them to stay up.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-1
Peter’s prediction: It’s not looking good for Sheffield United. I feel for them really because I thought they were fantastic last season. My friend Paul Heaton [former lead singer of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South] supports them so I’ve always got a soft spot for them, but they can’t buy a goal at the moment. Sorry Paul! 3-0
Brighton v Wolves (17:30 GMT)
Wolves are wobbling a bit. Defensively they still look pretty sound but they are not scoring goals, which is why they are not winning many games and are stuck in mid-table.
Brighton are the same, only they are hovering just above the relegation zone. A win would make a big difference to both teams, but I can see the points being shared.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-1
Peter’s prediction: I’m tempted to go for another draw here but maybe Wolves will edge it. 1-2
West Brom v Arsenal (20:00 GMT)
If you are Sam Allardyce, what do you say to the West Brom players after they were taken apart by Leeds?
Allardyce was full of praise for them after their excellent draw with Liverpool, but they were all over the place against Marcelo Bielsa’s side in midweek.
Is he just going to sit in this time, and basically say “we start with a point and I’m happy if we finish with one”?
I don’t see that game plan working against Arsenal.
The Gunners were in awful form before Christmas but they have won their last two games, and are just starting to play well. They could quite easily go on a nice little run now.
After going to The Hawthorns, they start January with home league games against Crystal Palace and Newcastle, and host the Magpies in the FA Cup. All of those fixtures look winnable for them.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-2
Peter’s prediction: West Brom will be smarting from that 5-0 defeat by Leeds so Sam Allardyce will really shut up shop this time. Arsenal are on a mini-revival though. 0-2
SUNDAY, 3 JANUARY
Burnley v Fulham (12:00 GMT)
It is all good news for Burnley at the moment. Off the pitch, the takeover of the club has gone through. On it, they are back to being Burnley – and that is a massive compliment.
I’ve mentioned before how Fulham are improving too, especially defensively, but I think they will find it extremely difficult against the Clarets.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Peter’s prediction: 0-0
Newcastle v Leicester (14:15 GMT)
Newcastle got a really good point against Liverpool, when Magpies boss Steve Bruce was just coming under a bit of pressure.
But this is Leicester away, and we know how good the Foxes are on the road. Jamie Vardy should start too, after only coming on as a substitute against Crystal Palace earlier in the week.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-2
Peter’s prediction: 1-2
Chelsea v Man City (16:30 GMT)
Chelsea have lost their last three away league games – at Everton, Wolves and Arsenal – but their form at Stamford Bridge has been a lot more solid.
I am still going with a Manchester City win, though. Pep Guardiola’s side are not quite at it, in terms of going forward and opening up teams, but the trade-off for that has been their improvement defensively.
The feel of the City team is different when they play 4-2-3-1 rather than 4-3-3 but that’s also down to the balance of attacking players in the team as well as their formation.
Maybe Guardiola felt his side are a little bit weak at the back and wanted that protection but, by addressing that problem, it seems to have made things harder for City at the other end.
They are still getting results, but it feels more like they are getting them by attrition.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-2
Peter’s prediction: Chelsea are struggling a bit at the moment. I’d like it to be a draw but I think City will win it. Sorry Suggs! 1-2
MONDAY, 4 JANUARY
Southampton v Liverpool (20:00 GMT)
I always feel like Southampton are better on the road, but their home form is decent too – the fifth best in the Premier League in fact.
Liverpool have not been great away this season but I just have a feeling they will get back to winning ways on the south coast.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-2
Peter’s prediction: Southampton have been one of the surprise teams this season but Sadio Mane always does well against his old club and, if he plays, I see us winning by a couple of goals. 0-2
Peter on Liverpool’s season so far: If someone had said at the start that we would be top of the league at the end of the year, despite having our best three centre-halves out, then you would take it all day, wouldn’t you? We’ve dropped a few points here and there but the draw with Newcastle was the same as the one with West Brom – we created enough chances but we just didn’t take them.
Lawro was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
How did Lawro do last time?
From the games on 28, 29 and 30 December, Lawro got five correct results from eight matches, including one exact score, for a total of 80 points.
He beat Grammy-winning producer Fraser T. Smith, who got three correct results, with no exact scores, for a total of 30 points.
That leaves Fraser level with Rick Astley near the bottom of the guest leaderboard, but with two games still to play – the matches between Everton and Manchester City and Tottenham against Fulham that were postponed.
He predicted a 2-0 Everton win and a 3-0 Spurs victory and any points earned will be added to his total when those games are played.
GUEST LEADERBOARD 2020-21
|110||Sister Bliss, Amy Macdonald, Steve White|
|90||Adam Devonshire, Becky Hill|
|75||Lawro (average after 16 weeks)|
|60||Celeste, Caroline Weir|
|50||Declan McKenna, Paul Smith, DJ Target|
|40||Gavin ‘Mo’ Edgeley|
|30||Rick Astley, Fraser T. Smith|