A curious feature of this pre-season has been the contrasting angst currently felt by fans of the two biggest clubs in the country.
For United fans, the concerns are over a lack of transfer activity and mounting signs that the Mourinho three-year cycle is gearing up for its standard third-season meltdown.
At Liverpool, the problem is rather different. Their summer has just been too damn good. It’s all going perfectly, with big money spent on top-quality players to improve obvious areas of weakness in the squad.
We now have the bizarre sight of each side’s fans trying to argue that the other is better placed to challenge Manchester City, if such a challenge is even possible given City’s outrageous dominance last season.
“You’re second favourites!”
“No, you’re second favourites!
“No, yours is clearly the larger and more handsome glans!”
For Liverpool fans in particular, the suspicion here is that they protest too much. It is entirely understandable: the sensible members of Liverpool’s fanbase are acutely aware of how the more – let’s say excitable – sections of the Reds’ support are perceived by others.
Liverpool fans’ annual refrain of ‘next year will be our year’ was a meme even before memes were a thing.
There is a reluctance to greet a truly impressive summer with too much over-confidence – never mind City’s 25-point margin over Liverpool last season, runs the argument, the six-point gap to United is too much to bridge.
But it’s just not the case.
The various points gaps from last season look superficially compelling when playing down expectations, but they ignore the volatility that has marked the upper echelons of the Premier League in recent years.
Even though the ‘Big Six’ have occupied the top six positions in three of the last four seasons (shout out to both Leicester and Chelsea for their genuinely mad 2015/16 seasons), the variation within is vast.
City’s 19-point victory margin last season may seem an insurmountable gap but, and apologies for the insult to your intelligence here, everyone starts the new season on zero.
Nineteen points looks like nothing when you glance at Chelsea’s daft four-season record. Since 2014/15 their final points tallies are 87, 50, 93 and 70. If Chelsea can drop 37 or gain 43 points season on season, then there is no reason to assume the title is already City’s just because of last year’s cruise. There is a reason no side has retained the Premier League title since 2009.
Even the inexplicable and unlikely new bastion of Premier League consistency, Tottenham, have shown fairly wild variation. Despite being the only side to finish in the top three in each of the last three seasons, their points tallies have lurched from 70 to 86 and back to 77.
Liverpool went from 60 points in 2016 to 76 in 2017. United may have finished a distant second last season, but they still lumped 12 points on their 2017 tally to leap from sixth to second.
Nobody is saying Liverpool must or even should win the title this season. But they absolutely could. And certainly it would be reasonable to expect a side with so much quality under an established manager with so much summer improvement to be challenging far harder for the big prize than any Liverpool team since the breathtaking Luis Suarez-inspired assault on the league in the second half of the 2013/14 season.
Come on, Liverpool fans. Say it loud and say it proud.