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Talking Football: Can anyone stop red-hot Premier League leaders Liverpool, and how long does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have at Manchester United?

© Simon Stacpoole/Offside via Getty ImagesSadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have been in top form
Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have been in top form

As champions Manchester City struggle to cope with defensive deficiencies, is the Premier League title Liverpool’s for taking?

Here, football writer Adam Lanigan answers the burning questions ahead of the Premier League’s return this weekend.

Seventeen successive league wins is sensational form from Liverpool. Surely the title is theirs to lose this season?

At this early stage, Liverpool appear odds-on to win the Premier League and end that 30-year wait to be champions of England for a 19th time.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have an eight-point lead over Manchester City and, just as importantly, they carry all the momentum.

Everything is going like clockwork now that goalkeeper Alisson is fit to return. In contrast, the long-term injury for key defender Aymeric Laporte has created a big problem for City, leading to shock losses to Norwich and Wolves.

Liverpool were 10 points ahead last season on December 29, and did not win the title. But City won 18 of the last 19 matches to haul them in. Any less and they would have finished second.

Now the Reds look equipped to take on any challenge. The front three of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino will score goals against any opposition and with Virgil van Dijk marshalling the defence and Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold bombing forward from full-back, they are virtually impossible to stop in full flow.

Wins over Manchester United and Tottenham in the next two games would also set a new record of 19 straight league victories in the top flight, beating the mark of 18 set by City two years ago.

However, that would count for little if they did not go on to win the title. As a result, beating Pep Guardiola’s men at Anfield on November 10 would be far more significant than passing that landmark.

Since last season’s Champions League final, it’s all gone the way of the pear for Spurs. Do you think Mauricio Pochettino will be their manager next season? Or even next month if they lose another couple…

In general, Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham have been a great fit for each other. But the sad reality is the relationship is coming to an end because Spurs have not won a trophy.

Football should always be about winning. Tottenham have had a great few years, but there is nothing to show for that.

Reaching the Champions League final last season, in some ways, was a glorious fluke. They got out of the group on away goals. They beat Manchester City in the quarter-finals on away goals and got past Ajax the same way in the semis.

It masked some problems that were beginning to emerge as they lost 13 times in the Premier League and they have already suffered three defeats in this campaign.

Three key performers – Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld – are all out of contract next summer and see their futures away from White Hart Lane. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, before his horrible elbow injury, had started to make mistakes and Dele Alli’s form has dipped badly.

That is a lot for a manager to resolve, while many of Pochettino’s public utterances have given the impression of someone who is thinking of moving on.

With so much uncertainty swirling around the club, it could be the end of days for the Argentine, especially if Real Madrid show any interest in him as a replacement for Zinedine Zidane, if the Frenchman were to depart.

Similar question regarding Manchester United – can you see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still being in charge there next season?

The simple answer is no.

Manchester United have many problems – an unbalanced squad, too much emphasis on commerce over football, no director of football, and sadly the manager is now another problem.

Solskjaer is a nice guy and he was exactly the type to hold the fort and lift the mood after the dark days of Jose Mourinho’s last few months.

But ever since the Norwegian was handed the job permanently, the green shoots of his caretaker spell have evaporated. Solskjaer being made “proper” Manchester United manager did not feel right.

United have won five out of 21 since that point, and their football has been awful. Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera had their faults and were moved on this summer, but United could have done with them this season as they seem to be getting worse.

Everybody knows it is not a quick fix at Old Trafford, but Solskjaer is not the man for the rebuild.

© Nick Potts/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Chelsea have had approving nods – not least from the England manager – for building a team around young English talent, but what do you think Frank Lampard will do once he has a transfer budget to play with?

The temptation at the moment would be to say: nothing.

But the season is still very young and those dual threats of loss of form and injuries to key players can strike at any point.

Although Chelsea were not able to sign anyone this summer, they are still effectively operating with three new players in young trio Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham.

The measure of their progress is that all three have made it into Gareth Southgate’s England squad and they have created a feelgood factor around Stamford Bridge.

The departure of Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s best player and leading scorer and maker of goals, appeared to be too big for Lampard to cope with, coming into the job as a manager.

Instead they are sitting in the Champions League spots and could take advantage of the weaknesses of others to finish in the top four again at the end of the season.

In terms of new signings, a forward will be top priority. Christian Pulisic has not fitted in yet since his move from Borussia Dortmund while both Pedro and Olivier Giroud will leave next summer when their contracts end so someone to help Abraham will be essential.

Do you think Leicester City will secure a top-six finish this season, or even higher?

I would be very surprised, and a touch disappointed, if Leicester do not finish in the top six this season.

Brendan Rodgers knew what an opportunity he was handed when Claude Puel was sacked and it’s why he left Celtic with seemingly undue haste.

The Foxes have fine players all over the pitch in the likes of Ben Chilwell, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy still up front. The loss of centre-half Harry Maguire to Manchester United does not seem to have affected them adversely at all.

However, the concern is whether they have enough goals in them if anything happened to Vardy, as they have decent cover everywhere else.

They performed well in defeat at Liverpool last time out and it’s up to Rodgers to make sure the players believe they should be challenging for a Champions League spot.

Give us your three for the drop in the Premier League this season?

In general, the Premier League appears to be much tighter this season, which is much healthier for the league as a whole.

Last season I always thought Cardiff and Huddersfield were certainties for the drop, and Fulham quickly proved they were, too, after some disastrous signings.

The teams that have come up from the Championship this time – Norwich, Sheffield United and Aston Villa – have shown they are going to be competitive.

But saying that, I still think Norwich will go down. They had a spectacular win over Champions Manchester City but the 5-1 hammering by Villa last time out has the alarm bells ringing.

I admire the way Daniel Farke’s team try to play but they were far from watertight in the Championship and I fear they will concede too many in the top flight.

Watford have started terribly and they made the decision to replace Javi Gracia with another Spaniard, Quique Sanchez Flores, back for his second spell in charge.

The 8-0 hammering by City was not a good sign and they are still searching for their first win. Everyone knows the Hornets do things differently with a constant churn of managers, but this could be the season it goes wrong for them.

The third spot looks tight with a number of contenders. The other two promoted clubs, plus Newcastle and Brighton, will all have spells looking over their shoulders but if pushed, I would go for Southampton, as I am not convinced their team has enough real quality in it.

North of the border, it looks like a genuine two-horse race again – are Rangers going to foil Celtic’s nine-in-a-row bid?

For the first time since Rangers came back into the Scottish Premiership, we look set for a thrilling title race that goes the distance.

Neil Lennon’s Celtic looked to have taken a big advantage with their win at Ibrox, but the draw at Hibernian and defeat on the plastic pitch at Livingston have really knocked them back.

Last season Steven Gerrard’s Rangers were guilty of dropping too many points in matches they should win. That is not the case this time. Apart from the Celtic loss, they have won every game and will resume after the international break two points clear of their biggest rivals.

With both sides playing in the group stages of the Europa League, there is no advantage for either team there, at least until Christmas.

The key for Rangers will be how they cope with the pressure in the New Year if things are still this tight.The men from Parkhead know all about winning every week – and in different ways – and that is new to this Rangers squad.

But with Gerrard at the helm, they feel like a different animal and it wouldn’t surprise me if Celtic’s run of Scottish titles stops at eight.

Given the choice of only watching Champions League or Premier League, which one would you pick?

I may be in the minority here but I’m a traditionalist and I love the Premier League.

Yes, the Champions League knockout rounds can provide exhilarating matches, as last season showed, but ultimately it is a cup competition.

The Premier League is a gruelling test over 38 games but it is spread over spring, summer, autumn and winter and if you come out on top over that you are the champion team of the year, in my book.

Sometimes a match that does not look too good on paper becomes the pivotal one of the season.

Don’t get me wrong, I watch my fair share of games that are instantly forgettable, but that is sport.

In my opinion, the best game of last season – including the Champions League – was Manchester City’s 2-1 league win over Liverpool in early January.

The standard was incredibly high, the drama was there from first minute to last and as it turned out, without that win, City would not have beaten Liverpool to the title.

Any love at all for the Europa League?

This is the competition that is fashionable to dislike, but I think that is unfortunate.

Being played on a Thursday night does not help because after two nights of Champions League action and a possible Monday nighter in the Premier League, fans are ready for a night off.

Because the main competition has become so bloated for Europe’s big leagues, the Europa League has really suffered in comparison.

For Arsenal and Manchester United to be in there with the likes of Astana from Kazakhstan and Vitoria Guimaraes from Portugal feels like a slap in the face.

But for a club like Wolves, there is a chance for an adventure. Think of all the years they have struggled in the Championship and below.

Here they are in Europe again – the club of Billy Wright and the team that famously beat Honved in 1954 in a friendly that was a precursor to the European Cup. And you sense manager Nuno Espirito Santo believes his players can have a strong run into the knockout rounds after Christmas.

The club I always use as an example is Sevilla. They have become the masters of the Europa League with five triumphs in 13 years.

They would rather try to win the Europa League than make up the numbers in the Champions League and their successes have transformed them into a powerful, modern club, respected all over Europe.

The obligatory VAR question – are you a fan and do you think it’s been a good addition to the Premier League?

I was a fan before the season began but some of the use of it has left me a bit cold.

I attended a recent match between Aston Villa and Burnley where Villa scored a goal, which was correctly deemed to be offside.

The trouble is, it was only disallowed when Burnley were about to take a restart, thus creating a huge feeling of anger and dissatisfaction within the stadium.

Speeding up decision-making is one area I would like see to improve.

The other point of concern is that TV officials seem reluctant to overturn decisions given on the field for penalties or possible red cards. It feels like referees are a bit too determined to stick together and not call each other out for potential mistakes.