It’s a three-horse title race but Covid-19 may spring surprise, says football pundit Bob Holmes

Football pundit and author, Bob Holmes, is a long-suffering Nottingham Forest supporter who has often been jokingly called a secret Liverpool fan and a closet Manchester United supporter – depending on the nature of his articles.

Holmes is a household name in Malaysia, thanks to his articles in the local media and punditry work on radio.

The Englishman, who has called Malaysia home since 1995, shares his thoughts with Twentytwo13 about VAR (video assistant referee), Ralf Rangnick, Antonio Conte and the title race.

What are your thoughts on VAR in the Premier League this season?

Holmes: I am not a fan of VAR. It was imposed upon the game before it was ready. The authorities should have taken more time to refine it before introducing it (in 2018).

We have seen fans celebrate a goal, only for VAR to overturn it five minutes or more later. It sucks the joy out of the game.

It is better this season as they have given it a lighter touch, the lines are thicker (to judge offside), but it still takes ages to review incidents.

There are no arguments with goal-line technology as they took their time perfecting it.

To help VAR with offside decisions, they will introduce sensors around the ground to give calls within seconds. That will help speed it up.

The authorities claimed one in 10,000 decisions are not right, but that is arguable. Just ask Bournemouth, who got relegated last season.

VAR has changed the fundamentals of the game and diminished the referee’s authority. The number of referees worldwide is rapidly shrinking. Part of the reason is VAR.

The Premier League decided against a circuit-breaker over the Christmas period following several postponements due to Covid-19. What are your thoughts?

Holmes: We are only halfway through this season, unlike in 2022. Then, there were only two months left to arrange for matches in the summer. There really is no way to squeeze games next year as the calendar is full. The 2022 World Cup is in November and December, and the league starts early to accommodate it.

If clubs can field a team, the games should carry on. I feel for the players, but sadly, money talks.

What are your thoughts about Manchester United’s new manager, Ralf Rangnick?

Holmes: Finally, United has gone for someone with pedigree. He is a class act whose reputation, surprisingly, is better than his actual trophy collection.

United fans are pleased as he is a real football man, not an ex-player or a box office name. They tried that with (Ole Gunnar) Solskjaer and (Jose) Mourinho, and failed.

Rangnick will improve the team. He does not have to win a trophy this season – realistically, he only has the FA Cup to aim for as I do not see them doing well in the Champions League.

If Rangnick can help United qualify for the Champions League, it will be a good season. (United is sixth with 31 points, four behind fourth-placed Arsenal, with a game in hand).

Antonio Conte is unbeaten as Tottenham boss. Can he fire them into a top-four spot?

Holmes: Conte is an excellent manager, whom I felt United should have approached, before Spurs got him.

If Tottenham wins its matches in hand, it will be fourth. I can see it staying there until the season ends, but it will not be easy as United, Arsenal and West Ham will for the fourth spot..

Will it be a three-horse title race between Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea? Or will there be surprises in store?

Holmes: Those three will be in the mix come May, but the postponement of matches due to Covid-19 may cause a surprise or two.

Chelsea recently suffered a bit of a wobble but has recovered. Liverpool, too, had several players out with Covid-19 but is third in the standing behind Chelsea and Manchester City. Liverpool plays Chelsea on Monday (12.30am).

City has been impressive, and has a big lead. It, more than most, should be able to cope with any fixture backlog as it has an enormous and talented squad.

These three are my favourites for the title.

Who do you think will go down this season? Can Newcastle’s newfound wealth save the club?

Holmes: Norwich and Newcastle look the most vulnerable at the moment, but it is still early, and the transfer window opens tomorrow.

Newcastle has the money, but the question is, can it convince big names to sign?

Even if Newcastle go down, it is likely to bounce back up again. That is when we may see stellar names coming in.

Burnley has a couple of games in hand, and if it wins those, it will go up the table and overtake Watford.

Everton and Leeds may be too good to go down, but are in the mix. So too, Southampton. No one can afford any slip-ups.

So that’s seven teams fighting to avoid being in the bottom three.

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