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Sunday 26 January 2020

Richard Dunne: 'Big two in league of their own'

RIGHT APPROACH: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool do their business properly on and off the pitch. PA Photo
RIGHT APPROACH: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool do their business properly on and off the pitch. PA Photo

Liverpool and Manchester City have, clearly, been the top two teams in the Premier League in the first half of the season and for the last 18 months as well.

But it's not just what their players do on the field that sets them apart, it's what they off the field. You need to have a well-run club on an even keel. For a few years now, City have been just that, doing their business well off the pitch and doing well in transfers.

They should be signing players who have already played in the Champions League, they need players of that level and they tend to get them while some other clubs don't. The likes of Arsenal and Manchester United have made so many errors when it comes to transfers, particularly Arsenal who have signed a lot of players but still don't have a backbone in their team.

Tottenham have been trying not to sign anyone at all and have relied heavily on Christian Eriksen for too long. Now he's looking to move on.

Success in the Premier League is about building a quality squad and at the moment only City and Liverpool can say they have done that. The rest are not just one or two players away from their standard, they are all four or five players, at least, away from having a squad that can compete with the top two.

I like the way Liverpool do their transfer business. Their CEO is not paid to be a celebrity - he does the job he is paid to do, to make the club function.

The Liverpool board don't seem to think 'we need a Messi or a Ronaldo'. They just look to sign players who can improve their squad. Players like James Milner and Andrew Robertson, not celebrities, not glamour names, but good professional footballers who do their jobs and do them well.

The great United teams of the Ferguson era were built around people like Denis Irwin - good, solid signings. And good midfield players, with a bit of flair added when they needed. The teams were made up mainly of players who delivered every week, not players who were big on Instagram.

City seem to work more as a team behind the scenes. You have people with roles to scout a player and someone else to sign him, someone else who is looking 18 months down the road in terms of players they might need.

United signed people like Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, even going back to players like Angel Di Maria. They had done a certain amount at their previous clubs but were never really proven to be top players and I don't think they did enough homework.

Anyone could have signed David Silva, but it was City who got him because they knew what he was about. It was the same with Aymeric Laporte. Their recruitment is the backbone of the club and then it's up to the manager to put that all together on the pitch. Too many clubs don't give the manager the best possible opportunity to get results on the field.

In general, the first half of the season has been good because the two big teams - Liverpool and City - carried on their form from last season. Liverpool have been amazing throughout the calendar year. I know Leicester are still in the mix, but Liverpool and City are well above the rest and to be able to keep it up at that level is a credit to both of them.

City have been at that level for three years now and the difference this season may prove to be that little bit of fatigue which seems to be afflicting City. Pushing for that third league title is proving to be tougher than they anticipated.

I never saw Leicester as being in the race for the title. They have done well and are in with an excellent chance of a Champions League place.

Looking a little further afield, I can't think of anyone in Spain or Italy who could maintain the levels of City and Liverpool.

All this represents a huge challenge for the other clubs. Manchester United may be able to win the big games, but then lose to the likes of Watford. They need to find something in the new year to try and close the gap.

United have been a real disappointment this season. When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over everyone was impressed at how he had them playing. It looked like they were firing on all cylinders, winning a lot of games.

Then he gets the job permanently and all of a sudden they retreat back to what they had been doing for the previous three or four seasons. For United to be competitive again, they need to be consistent.

They are a long way off from challenging for the title. It will take a lot of work in the transfer market, not just in the next window, but the next two or three windows. Any chance they have to improve the squad in January they need to take, but it needs a lot more than one window to make United strong again.

Liverpool have the strongest squad in the league. I wondered if they could sustain their run, keep up their tempo and I did feel they'd get tired around this stage of the season but they have sustained it, they just go again from game to game.

City have shown they have the squad to compete, up until now anyway, and they will be at the top not just in the Premier League, but the Champions League as well.

Arsenal have an inexperienced manager coming in and it will take them time, maybe a long time, to develop a side and a philosophy. It's about holding your nerve to compete at the top, the rest of the league can't do that but City and Liverpool can.

Liverpool's players seem to be able to keep their focus. They won the World Club Championship last week but straight away their players were talking about the next game, the next trophy, the next challenge. They are prepared for the rest of the season. They have the League Cup and World Club Championship off the calendar now so they know what they have to do over the coming months.

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