Wave after wave of military onslaught was blocked and repelled. Defending in numbers, refusing to yield to the more powerful weaponry of their opposition, West Ham United scrapped around and earned themselves a point against top-placed Liverpool. Actually, considering there was a clear offside in the build-up of Liverpool’s goal and with the remarkably creative Felipe Anderson marshalling their counter attacks, Manuel Pellegrini’s Hammers can even feel a little disappointed that they didn’t win the thing.
Mark Noble, West Ham midfield geezer and notorious wind-up merchant, mentioned in his post-match comments that he’s noticed an “anxiety” amongst Liverpool fans lately, that their desperation to win the title was feeding into the players out on the field. After all, this was the second straight 1-1 draw for Liverpool, who’d be seven points clear right now if they’d only taken maximum points from Leicester City and West Ham - two teams that they beat pretty handily at the start of the season.
We seem to be witnessing the first signs of stumbling from Jurgen Klopp’s jolly side, who previously had only dropped points against Chelsea (1-1 away), Manchester City (0-0 at home and 1-2 away), and Arsenal (1-1 away). Unlike in the early days of Klopp+Liverpool, this lot had been brushing aside teams like Leicester City and West Ham with a deferent flick of the wrist. And this is not the time to be slipping up… so to speak.
But they’re still three points clear. Three points clear with 13 games to play and only three of those games are against top six sides. It’s all still in their hands if they can run the table from here. And if they do then I can’t tell you what will happen. Nearly 29 years now between league titles, it’s been one of the few constants in English football that we can rely upon and now we’re facing a future so uncertain that it could be disastrous for humanity’s ongoing survival. I mean, if Liverpool wins the Premier League then what does that mean for climate change? For Brexit? For rising nationalist sentiments around the world? For nuclear treatise? For Steven Gerrard’s footballing legacy?
One of the most viewed articles TNC has ever published, thanks to the wonders of search engines, was this little ditty from four years ago entitled: THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED SINCE LIVERPOOL LAST WON A LEAGUE TITLE. It’s a bit of a laugh, written with six games to go in the 2013-14 league season with the nagging doubt that if I didn’t write it then, I’d never be able to write it.
You see, Brendan Rodgers (and more importantly Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard) had taken the Reds to the brink of the title. All they needed to do was win out, particularly against Manchester City and Chelsea, and it was theirs. You may recall how that one went. They bottled it against Chelsea and Steven Gerrard slipped over. Demba Ba scored. An iconic moment in Premier League history and the source of some of the all-time great internet memes. Isn’t it great when a whole community can get together and put aside their differences to celebrate what we all have in common? That being: a healthy distaste for Liverpool Football Club and a delight in their failures.
To be fair, that’s a venn diagram which every football fan shares in and you can substitute Liverpool for Manchester United/Manchester City/Arsenal/Chelsea/Spurs/Whoever and it’s all the same. There just seems to be something special about Liverpool is all. Few clubs in the world can boast the level of passion and pride in their team that Reds fans have. They’re different, they’ll never walk alone. In a lot of ways what fans of Liverpool have is what we’re all investing so much into our football clubs to try and find. It’s not about how well you win, it’s about how well you lose and how those emotional tragedies, where you don’t even feel like getting out of bed in the morning because eleven blokes you’ll never meet lost a game you weren’t playing in because eleven others kicked a ball into a net more often than them, become poignant and beautiful reflections of the human condition itself. Only one team wins the league title at the end of the season. Most years end in disappointment as our expectations never quite seem to satisfy reality. But we sports fans are endlessly romantic, aren’t we?
And that, dear friend, is why Liverpool cannot win the title this season. It must not be allowed to happen. We cannot open that pandora’s box and unleash such hitherto repressed joy upon the world. You Liverpool fans have suffered enough already and that’s why you need to suffer some more, for all the rest of us. (By the way, as somebody who wasn’t born the last time Liverpool won the title, I don’t understand why I still had to go to school with Reds fans… like, why are you choosing to support Liverpool of all the teams out there? I s’pose it’s better than the poor souls who ended up with Arsenal in the permanent cosmic lottery of fandom).
On the basis of their squad there’s no doubt that the current Liverpool side is good enough to win the Premier League. Championship winning teams all have certain elements to them, particularly in football. In Mohamed Salah they have the world class talent that’ll win them games even on the off days, the bloke who sells all the jerseys and gets his name screamed out on school fields at lunchtime kickaround most often. LFC also has, finally, a quality goalkeeper with Alisson on boards. Gotta spend all the money you need on a keeper at this level because you won’t win much without one… remember Loris Karius?
Chuck in the unstoppably inspirational leader in the middle too. Many would say Jordan Henderson but they’re all kidding themselves. The real dude is Virgil Van Dijk. He was the best defender in the PL while at Southampton until his initial busted transfer got in the way and, honestly, all the moaning Jose Mourinho did at the start of the season because he didn’t sign Harry Freakin’ Maguire? He should have jumped the gun and offered all the money for VVD six months earlier. A genuinely transcendent defensive force who makes others around him so very, very much better.
Gotta love the depth that Klopp has acquired too. It was the damning weakness of Brendan Rodgers’ time after he spent all his Suarez money on getting slightly better subs rather than improving the first eleven. But Klopp has been a mastermind with his transfers – Andy Robertson, Gigi Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri have all done crucial things this season and each was signed from a relegated team. Robertson might even be the best left back in the league. A moment of recognition for Jurgen Klopp himself now too because that there’s a man who knows how to spot talent and how to coach the best out of them. Fill that out with some young belters like Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold and 100% this is a PL-winning squad.
But then so is Manchester City’s. Pep Guardiola’s side was in a whole other dimension of footy last season and even if they’ve shown a bit of mental fatigue this time around they’re still capable of shredding a team’s utter will to live with their superiorly evolved tiki taka3 footy. And with others dropping points lately, Tottenham aren’t quite out of the race yet either (although let’s be honest… it’s not gonna be Spurs, they’ll only Spurs it up… did you feel that, Liverpool fans? We just shared a moment of football fan schadenfreude! See, it really does go in all directions).
LIVERPOOL - Bournemouth (H), Manchester United (A), Watford (H), Everton (A), Burnley (H), Fulham (A), Spurs (H), Southampton (A), Chelsea (H), Cardiff (A), Huddersfield (H), Newcastle (A) & Wolves (H)
MAN CITY – Everton (A), Chelsea (H), West Ham (H), Bournemouth (A), Watford (H), Manchester United (A), Fulham (A), Cardiff (H), Crystal Palace (A), Spurs (H), Burnley (A), Leicester (H) & Brighton (A)
The funkiest part about this is that neither of them have a particularly tough last three games, should it come to that, so unless there’s a real choke job goes on it’s likely the title is decided before April for all intents and purposes. Also I’m not including Tottenham in this because I don’t really think they’ve got it in them but feel free to play the ‘nobody believes in us’ card because at only five points back and with both Liverpool and City still to play, Spurs are going to have a huge say in who ends up with the trophy and they’d better trust that it could be them or else why bother? They’ve been close enough before to know how to lose it, which most of this Liverpool squad haven’t had the unfortunate opportunity to figure out and thus avoid repeating yet. Manchester United are well out of the title race but they’ll also have a big say in the remaining scrap.
Basically the entire City squad are title winners already but only a few of them have experienced a proper title race before and none of them under Pep Guardiola – they were 15 points off Chelsea in 2016-17 and won by 19 points last time. So I’m not sure that particular aspect helps them… however their single-minded faith in their dominant style of play does and although we’ve seen sloppiness from both sides lately, City are the ones better suited to putting their heads down and carrying on.
Having said that, they do have an easier Champions League draw – it’s City vs Schalke and Liverpool vs Bayern – meaning a much better chance of going deep in a competition which, let’s be honest, is the priority for Man City. Plus, unlike the Reds, City are still in the FA Cup and they have a League Cup final against Chelsea at the end of the month. Lots of distractions from other competitions… they could still win the quadruple. Imagine the energy that sucks out of you compared to a team who, if they lose to Bayern, will only have the one focus to worry them. Not that Liverpool should give up on Bayern, the way the two teams are going they’ll probably beat them. But if they do get knocked out it’s not the worst for their title challenge.
Right now the problem for Liverpool isn’t their mentality or their fixture congestion though… it’s their defence. That’s what’s cost them at the very top the last couple seasons and then suddenly a couple signings and it became a strength this time around. But injuries to Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and even Dejan Lovren have hurt them. Just one clean sheet in their last seven games. Not really ideal, that, and it’s eating into the balance of their side. They’ve only won two of their last six games in all competitions. Compare that to Man City’s run of form and it feels like that loss to Newcastle signalled a slip up but only because their standards are so high. City’s last ten games in all comps read like this: 3-1 W, 2-1 W, 7-0 W, 9-0 W, 3-0 W, 3-0 W, 1-0 W, 5-0 W, 1-2 L & 3-1 W.
Yeah rightio then. Based on all that these two draws this week are starting to look a bit fatal for Liverpool, who’ve handed back almost all of the buffer they’ve been compiling from the start of things to a team that isn’t going to drop too many more points. Yet for some reason I can’t seem to find much satisfaction in all that and I think it might be because this is football that we’re talking about, where predictions are a fool’s vice and the only true knowledge is knowing that you don’t know nothing at all about what’s gonna happen next.
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