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Can Man United or Liverpool learn from recent runners-up?

“In my philosophy, finishing second just makes you the best loser,” said the manager of Real Madrid in March 2011. “You’re just the best of the rest when you finish second. It’s the same when you finish ten points behind the champions, but score 500 goals. You’re still only number two.” The challenge, as Jose Mourinho knows all too well, is to transition from number two to number one. The Portuguese took over at the Bernabeu in summer 2010 after Real had just finished second, and he guided them to the same finish in his first season. It was only in his second year that he wrestled the crown from Barcelona’s grasp. Pep Guardiola was manager at the Nou Camp at the time, and Mourinho will hope history repeats itself next season. No sooner had Manchester City been confirmed as Premier League champions was the question asked: Can anyone dethrone them next season? If so, the club that finishes second this campaign is surely best placed to do so. In 25 full Premier League seasons, the team that finished the previous campaign second has won the title the next year 11 times, starting with Manchester United in 1992/93. Blackburn managed the feat in 1994/95, while Arsenal and Chelsea have done so on multiple occasions. But since Manchester City jumped from second to first in 2013/14, the fate of the previous season’s runner-up has been rather less bright. Liverpool plunged to sixth, Manchester City dropped to fourth and Arsenal slumped to fifth in their follow-up seasons after pushing the champions the closest. Tottenham are unlikely to finish any higher than third after not bottling the title in 2016/17 – although there has been no collapse quite as pronounced as Newcastle’s fall from second to 13th in 1997/98. But what of this season’s bridesmaids to City’s runaway bride? United currently lead Liverpool by one point with a game in hand, yet both will have already considered how to improve on their league position next season. Can they learn from City’s success four years ago, and the failures of each club since?   Manchester City – second in 2012/13 to first in 2013/14 What happened? City went from finishing 11 points behind United to pipping Liverpool by two points. What went right? Plenty. City wasted no time in laying the groundwork for 2013/14 after finishing a distant second behind United the season before. Roberto Mancini was sacked with two games of the 2012/13 season remaining, and Manuel Pellegrini was appointed his successor exactly one month later. There were also inevitable changes in the playing staff. Kolo Toure, Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz were all released in summer 2013, while Carlos Tevez, Maicon and Abdul Razak were sold. The club spent a meagre £90.9million on incomings, but only one could possibly be declared a true success. Jesus Navas never settled in Manchester, both Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic left within three years, and Martin Demichelis is still having nightmares about Marcus Rashford. Fernandinho exists as evidence that this was not a wasted transfer window. Yet arguably the biggest difference between the two seasons was not at the Etihad, but four miles away in Stretford. Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement had a cataclysmic effect throughout the Premier League elite as David Moyes proved painfully incapable as a manager at the top level. City’s most crucial change was in the dug-out of their main rivals. The difference That is not to say City were not much-improved. They conceded more times in the Premier League in 2013/14 (37) than 2012/13 (33), but scored 36 more goals. Tevez and Edin Dzeko were their joint-top scorers in Mancini’s final season (14 goals); Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure all exceeded that total under Pellegrini. They also lost as many games (6), but won more (27 to 23) in their title-winning season. City had more shots (673 to 659) and completed more passes (21,035 to 20,357) en route to being named champions, while they ranked second for tackles in 2013/14 after placing 17th under the same metric in 2012/13. To conclude… Have more shots, complete more passes, make more tackles, employ Manuel Pellegrini, sign Fernandinho and hope the best manager in the league retires.   Liverpool – second in 2013/14 to sixth in 2014/15 What happened? Liverpool slipped from title challengers to Europa League stragglers. What went wrong? Luis Suarez left. Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi, Alberto Moreno and Mario Balotelli all arrived, but any success from that motley crew would come long after Brendan Rodgers’ departure. The deflating nature of their title collapse also took its toll, as did the increased weight of expectation. But yeah, Luis Suarez left. The addition of European football to the fixture list also surprised a squad who had enjoyed midweek breaks for the entirety of their 2013/14 title challenge. Liverpool played 43 games that season, while failed attempts in the Champions and Europa League, as well as runs to the FA and League Cup semi-finals, added an extra 15 matches to the schedule. A combination of many factors contributed to the downfall. As James McKenna wrote in ‘We’re Everywhere, Us: Liverpool’s 2014/15 Season Told Through the Stories of Fans and Foes’: ‘Our impression of looking lacklustre looks in danger of actually being lacklustre. I could try and be a pundit here and say Liverpool need to change this or that, that tweaking this little thing improves the overall. But I really don’t know what the solution is short of building Luis Suarez II, or new muscles for Daniel Sturridge’s legs, or new legs for Steven Gerrard, or a bit of courage for Simon Mignolet, or an actual defence.’ The expiration of Javier Manquillo’s loan probably didn’t help, though. What changed? Liverpool scored 101 Premier League goals in 2013/14; that almost halved to 52 in 2014/15. Their top scorer went from Suarez (31) to Steven Gerrard, whose nine league goals included four penalties and one free-kick. Daniel Sturridge went from 24 goals to an injury-ravaged five. They went from having 651 shots to 590, from 848 tackles to 797, from winning 26 and losing six games to winning 18 and losing 12, from a vaguely respectable Simon Mignolet to a Simon Mignolet who had to be dropped for Brad Jones against Manchester United and Arsenal, from beating Tottenham 5-0 and 4-0 and Arsenal 5-1 to losing 6-1 to Stoke. It was quite funny, really. To conclude… Don’t sell Luis Suarez and expect Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli to adequately...


Published By: Fottball 365 - Tuesday, 17 April

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