Since day one of the season, Jurgen Klopp has avoided title talk as if it was the plague.
The players, for the most part have kept away from the type of excitement that’s brewing and now possibly boiling over in the stands, with only the occasional mention of reaching the promised land in interviews or on social media.
You often hear boxers or fighters discuss the necessity of entering a bout ‘cold’ and ‘emotionless’. The theory goes that any animosity, poignancy or ulterior motives will only dilute the raw skill and ability that is needed to emerge as the winner.
Perhaps in 2013/14 this was the difference between a first league championship in 24 years and the eventual reality – another nearly season. After falling behind versus Chelsea, Liverpool turned desperate. Weighed down by all the baggage that now comes with the quest for number nineteen, Brendan Rodgers’ side started doing things they hadn’t done all season.
They overcompensated for one mistake and second-guessed themselves with the weight of two and a half decades of falling short on their shoulders.
They didn’t have a cool, calm and collected leader to turn to in search of reassurance. Instead, they had a 33-year old Steven Gerrard who was digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole of frustration, while perilously trying to make up for his first-half mistake.
It feels different this year. One of the few remaining figures of Liverpool’s most recent ‘nearly season’ is Liverpool’s club captain.
Unlike many players in the squad, he has experience of a title race with this club and knows know how to manage expectations and excitement better than was done five years ago.
There’s every chance his influence and presence in the dressing room has led to the professionalism and short-term focus we’ve seen this season.
Those who weren’t involved in the 2014 title charge (all the squad except Sturridge, Henderson and Mignolet) seem to have an understanding that downplaying this crazy ride and focusing on one game at a time is by far the best way to mount a charge for silverware.
There’s been no Gerrard-like huddle and no post-match celebrations akin to that of Roma last year. While those moments are brilliant in the moment itself, being Braveheart every week isn’t sustainable in football.
The manager surely deserves much of the credit for this. He’s reminded the media and supporters constantly that this side team is not the Liverpool of five, ten or twenty years ago.
He’s never claimed they’re better or worse than those sides, but he’s been keen to point out that the mistakes of Evans, Houllier, Benitez and Rodgers don’t effect or add pressure to his squad.
For all the good that Liverpool’s illustrious and colourful history brings to the club, it has too often hurt the eleven footballers on the pitch.
The emotional attachment and intimacy that seemingly always grows between the playing staff, the fans and the city has tended to add an unwanted weight of sentimentality.
While it can be used as a tool for motivation, it has to be harnessed. This season, it most definitely has been.
When the manager first said the title wasn’t being mentioned at Melwood, it did feel like a bit of toffee more than anything else. However, as more and more players have brought it up, more credence has to be given to the claim that Liverpool are simply taking it game-by-game.
Certainly, the Reds’ professionalism, efficiency and patience has already been tested more in 18/19 than it was five years ago.
While more often than not, a few moments of magic from Suarez or a double from Sturridge inside the first half-hour would leave little doubt as to who the victors were going to be, the current Liverpool side have had to become masters in winning battles and controlling the fine margins that dictate close games.
For a side that is widely regarded as one of the best in Europe, Liverpool’s half-time scorelines this season have been more like that of a side struggling for a top four spot. 0-0 versus Everton, Brighton, Watford and Burnley, 1-1 at home to United, a goal down against Chelsea and Crystal Palace.
Liverpool have 60 points – when did the last 10 eventual champions hit that mark? pic.twitter.com/2zK5vUf8P2
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 22, 2019
Emotion could’ve got the better of Klopp’s team in any of these matches. Passes could’ve become hurried, speculative shots could’ve become more frequent and challenges could’ve become rash an ill-timed. The feeling of a debt owed to supporters for the mistakes of yesteryear could’ve swallowed up players, and a reckless do-or-die attitude could’ve blown it for them. But no, they have always trusted the process, believed in their abilities and stuck to the game plan.
Where others would’ve panicked and began overcompensating, as happened against Chelsea in April 2014, Liverpool have remained calm and dug themselves out in a professional and efficient manner.
Eventually there might be a moment like that of Gerrard’s rousing ‘we go again’ speech. But the team are much better placed to manage any surge of emotional energy if it does come further down the line.
The ghosts of years-gone-by might haunt Liverpool supporters, but the current crop of players have no interest in ‘nearly stories’ from the past.
They are writing their own story, and aren’t letting emotion get in the way.