What’s remarkable about being involved in a Premier League title race is the absence of ‘small games’.
Thirty-eight cup finals they said, and that cliché for once looks like coming true. A three o’clock kick-off at home to Bournemouth, not on the tele at the start of February should be as close to an unobtrusive game as Liverpool can hope for at this stage of the season.
It’s one where if the Reds get maximum points out of their last two games, they go into knowing the win will be theirs. They go in knowing that Bournemouth need two back-to-back lottery wins to get anything out of the game.
Liverpool’s least memorable, least surprising and least important game of the season might well end up being Cardiff City at home back in October. And yet even that felt big at the time. A must-win tie that wasn’t made easy by Neil Warnock’s relegation-threatened team, who had the audacity to score a goal at Anfield at a time when no one else even bothered.
Every game has been huge, and despite Klopp’s men going the first five months of the campaign without dropping a point to teams outside the top five, you never quite felt guaranteed of a win going into many of those games in the same way Manchester City perhaps did.
I don’t like that term must-win, as in reality no one’s going to die if you draw or lose, are they?
But in the shallow context of football and the even shallower context of a title race, Saturday’s clash against the Cherries is as close to a must-win as it gets.
While much of the reaction to the last two results has been over-the-top, unnecessary and more than anything, unhelpful, when you look at Liverpool’s fixture-list it doesn’t feel like a time when you can afford to drop needless points.
After a ten-day break following the Reds’ next game, Klopp’s team will return to action versus Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
There’s two league games in the next seven days, including a trip to Old Trafford against a resurgent United. A team and atmosphere that’ll be more than keen to send Liverpool stumbling as they pull on to the back straight of this 800 metre title dash.
Similarly, Everton fans will be baying for blood on the 3rd of March, whether that’s getting a draw or just kicking Sadio Mane really fucking hard in the shins.
Then there’s the away leg versus Munich and Spurs at home before the end of the month.
April could see Liverpool play a Barcelona or a Real Madrid twice in a week before hosting Chelsea days later. In the same month, there’s trips away to Southampton and Cardiff, both of whom are likely to be fighting for their Premier League survival.
More than anything, draws against West Ham and Leicester reduce Liverpool’s margin-of-error for the remaining three months.
Now, a draw at Old Trafford may not be enough and dropping points at home to Spurs may be unavoidable.
'Nobody said that when City picked up no points against Palace and Leicester.' 🤷♂@LFC's Andy Robertson says the players are not showing nerves in the @premierleague title race and that there is still a long way to go. pic.twitter.com/LYPpgQheYO
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 5, 2019
Can Liverpool cope with the pressure? Of course they can. Perhaps it’s just me being anxious, realizing I’ve basically no control over Naby Keita’s form or whether the manager goes back to 4-2-3-1.
It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen a Liverpool side that could just go and win ten games on the bounce.
And ten-on-the-bounce against really good opposition too, like we saw in December. Not like Arsenal’s unbeaten run a few months back where they were playing Rotherham at home every week.
Liverpool didn’t need to put that pressure on themselves. At times though, it feels like it’s in the club’s D.N.A..
They haven’t won a trophy ‘the easy way’ since the 1995 League Cup. Since then, Liverpool have won seven major finals. Four of them on penalties, one where they were a goal down with ten to play and had been battered for the previous 80 minutes, one against Manchester United when the goalkeeper had to turn into Lev Yashin for ninety minutes to keep a clean sheet and one with a golden goal in a game that finished 5-4 against some farmers from Spain.
From November when it became clear Liverpool were going to have a real chance at the league this season, I’ve always thought they’d find a way of making it close. Whether that was going to be by matching a relentless pace from City stride for stride or becoming a bit shit again when Guardiola’s team almost looked out-of-sight in our rear-view mirrors. Unfortunately, it’s been the latter, but as I write this in February, the league title is in Liverpool’s hands with thirteen games to go.
The fun of making it tight again has to stop though. Bournemouth at home is everything now.
It’s a 3pm kick off Saturday so get in there for 2.15, leave the extra pint getting in that ground early is where it starts. When they run out to warm up seeing that ground full they will realise it’s different, it’s a title run in and we are in the box seat!
— Rome to Istanbul (@tedthered77) February 7, 2019
The Reds have already put enough pressure on their future selves.
Time to restore normality once more.