It’s not as fun when the Reds are a bit crap, is it?
It’s not all bad I suppose. At one end of the pitch the dream of Liverpool never conceding a goal again is back alive. And despite the prancing stallion of Liverpool’s title charge morphing into an injured pony who annoyingly keeps on cutting inside and shooting straight at opposition keepers, only one point separates Liverpool and table-toppers Manchester City.
Liverpool scored five against Watford at Anfield on Wednesday.
Liverpool have scored five in their last six away league matches.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) March 3, 2019
As a man who pays little to no attention to the tactical and technical side of football, I couldn’t possibly tell you what’s happened to what was once (and maybe still is) the best front three in the world. If you want the answer, you’d be better off asking someone who takes the football seriously. Yeah, one of those weirdos.
I’d like to think that United, Everton, Munich, Leicester and West Ham were just all playing with thirteen men on the pitch and no one noticed, because that’s certainly what it’s felt like everytime Sadio Mane or Mo Salah have got the ball anywhere near the goal.
But with the notable exception of Anthony Taylor, most refs probably would’ve noticed if one of the teams had two more lads on the pitch than the rules allowed for.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that pressure is what’s caused the Reds’ recent drop in form and inability to score goals. To put it nicely, I think if you’re accusing Liverpool of ‘bottling it’, you don’t understand football and probably never will.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have been under serious pressure since they beat West Ham 4-0 on the 12th of August. Before Daniel Sturridge’s late equaliser against Chelsea a few months ago, people were terrified that this side ‘couldn’t afford to drop points’ at Stamford Bridge for fear of City pulling away.
It was September and Liverpool literally had a 100% record going into the game. This is the pace that was expected.
Back when City themselves lost to Chelsea in December, and the Reds assumed top spot in the league, I said our lads would find a way of making this title race close one way or another.
I thought if Liverpool opened up a large enough gap that City began to look like outsiders for a second league win on the bounce, Klopp’s team would find a way of allowing the Mancs back into it. Also, if Guardiola’s men kept beating sides 6-0 every week, I reckoned Liverpool could keep up with them right until the end.
Unfortunately, the former has occurred. The sheer novelty of being top and being favourites to lift the league in May hasn’t done the Reds much good. Since going seven clear on Boxing Day, they’ve taken 13 points out of a possible 27.
But without many noticing, it’s a similar story to last year.
On the 8th of April 2018, Chelsea trailed Liverpool by ten points (with an inferior goal difference and only one game in hand). Yet a month later, Liverpool’s final game had become a must-win.
Yes, the Reds were flying in Europe at the time, but the eleven players that were put out in the league games still should’ve had more than enough to get wins against the likes of Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Everton.
Then though, when the pressure was really on against Brighton on the last day of the season, Liverpool secured Champions League qualification at a canter, winning 4-0.
In both games home and away to Roma last year, the same happened. Liverpool looked clear and out of sight at both Anfield and the Stadio Olimpico with twenty minutes to go, and both times the Italians found a way back into the tie.
This Liverpool side are at their best when they’re under big pressure, when games become must-win as opposed to dare-not-lose. They are better chasers than leaders, both during a game and across the course of a season.
Now the heat has turned up to maximum temperature.
Five points behind City and there would be no pressure. It would be as good as over.
Five points ahead of City and the security of knowing some sort of lead will remain regardless of how the next game goes lessens the demand for brilliance.
But one point behind a team who will go at the very least at two points a game in between now and May, that’s pressure.
As Klopp said last Sunday, to switch to ‘Playstation football’ and go on the all-out offensive that we’ve seen from Liverpool before, would be reckless and irresponsible.
However, there will surely be times in between now and the end of the season when Liverpool will have to return to their old ‘blitzkrieg’ style of play.
When you’re not bothered about getting knocked out of the domestic cups and when you rotate through the depths of winter, this is why you do it.
From now on, there is no more forward planning, the next nine weeks is what this is all about. This is what everything before was building up to.
Liverpool have to chase, and chase they will.