by SIMON FURNIVALL
Let’s face it, Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Swansea was batshit mental. It’s a good phrase to describe the whole of the season, to be honest. The side have scored 70 goals in 27 games, they’ve netted four or more in a game nine times already – more times than they’ve kept clean sheets. Liverpool have established themselves as one of the most threatening attacking sides in Europe.
Yet they’ve also thrown in performances against the likes of Hull, Aston Villa and West Brom, which looked typical of a side set for an entirely nondescript 10th place finish, such was the lack of energy and inspiration that was on show. Performances which one might attribute to the mid-table anonymity of Alan Pardew’s Newcastle, not those of a title-challenging side who have been trained to entertain.
And that’s not to mention the tendency to descend into blind panic any time that a cross comes anywhere near the penalty area; when defenders with the experience of Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel treat the ball like an unexploded bomb which, if you have to go near it at all, must be heaved as far away from danger as quickly as possible. But more of that later.
There are, of course, many reasons why Liverpool are rightly considered to be in the title race. They’re four points off the top of the table with 11 games to play. Both Chelsea and Manchester City have yet to visit Anfield, where the Reds have lost only once so far this season. They have a strike partnership who have scored 41 goals between them so far in the league this season and they’re a point better off and three points closer to the top than the title-challenging 2008/09 squad were at the same point in the campaign. Plus, there’s the fact that in a season as ridiculous as this one has been, surely the most mental team in the league deserves to come out on top. Liverpool are, undoubtedly, right in the fight.
Yet, despite all this, I can’t quite join those who (tongue firmly lodged in cheek) refer to Liverpool as the ‘champions elect’ and those who truly do believe that this will be the season that they finally claim that 19th title. I want to believe, I want to be among those who are already picturing the celebratory party come May 11th, and I’m having a load of fun watching a side who are easily the most entertaining in the league. But Sunday’s win over Garry Monk’s side encapsulated every reason why I’m not quite there…. yet.
Part of the batshit mental identity that Brendan Rodgers’ team has assumed this season includes a defence that induces heart attacks in its fans any time the ball is within 20 yards of their goal. They’ve kept just seven clean sheets in 27 games so far, and three of those came in the opening three games of the season. Since then they’ve prevented the opposition from scoring in just 16.6 per cent of our Premier League games. Compare that with the three sides ahead of us (Chelsea 44 per cent, Arsenal 44 per cent, Manchester City 38 per cent) and it begins to hint at the problems.
Furthermore, while they’ve taken a staggering 37 points from a possible 42 at Anfield so far this season, only 19 from 38 have been garnered on the road – a record worse than each of our title rivals and even that lot from Old Trafford. Of the remaining 11 games, five come on home ground while six are away, but it is the fact that, following the postponement of Sunderland’s visit until March 26, each of Liverpool’s next three fixtures sees them packing the bags and hitting the road that prevents me from buying that inflatable Premier League trophy just yet.
Should Liverpool stay in line with our current points-per-game average from the away trips this season and take just two or three from the encounters with Southampton, Manchester United and Cardiff, then it’s likely that those title dreams will have to be packed away until August, though as fans we’ll almost certainly have the significant bonus of a return to Champions League football to sustain us through those long, lean summer months when all that’s on the telly is Roy Hodgson providing the nation with yet more underwhelming failure.
Given the defending that has been on show in the last three Premier League away trips – Stoke, West Brom and Fulham – defending so lacking in basic skill that it would make those used to watching the Scottish Premiership roll their eyes, and the fact that on Sunday it seemed to be seeping into Anfield life as well, there is a sinking feeling in my stomach that come full time at Old Trafford at the end of this month, we’ll all be staring at our feet and wondering where our optimism went as we look at City and Chelsea disappearing down the road.
On the other hand, of course, should they come through those fixtures in possession of seven or even nine shiny points to add to the total they already have on the board, then with five of the final eight games coming at home, the name of Liverpool Football Club may as well be etched on to that big, ugly trophy long before the inevitable happens against Newcastle in May.
Maybe, just maybe, this whole season is mad enough to be the one remembered for Aly Cissokho winning a Premier League title, and if it does I’ll party as hard as anyone and bow to those who called it from the moment the campaign opened up with three 1-0 victories.
I just can’t bring myself to believe it… yet.
Pic: Dave Rawcliffe/Propaganda
But at the moment it would be fairly mean spirited to deny any supporter their dream. While it’s mathematically possible then it’s ON as far as I am concerned. Why not?
This team is just crazy enough to do it, you better believe that :)
We’ve suffered at the back from a lack of consistency…BUT, that suffering has been enhanced by injuries. Sakho, Agger, Enrique, Cissokho, Johnson and Lucas have all experienced long-term stays on the sideline that has led to a back line and holding midfield that changes as quickly as the weather in Sochi.
We could be firmly competing for the title if we had a consistent backline.
I’m in the same camp. I think we’re in danger of talking ourselves into believing our defence is staffed by the Marx brothers with Harold Lloyd in goal. There’s no argument we’re conceding too many goals, but allowing for injuries that have meant it’s arguable we’ve never been able to play a first-choice ‘keeper and back four together, and a style of play that provides little protection to the defence when play transitions, is the defence really *that* bad? Our most woeful displays at the back have been characterised by egregious individual errors that can neither be planned for nor mitigated against, rather than what looks like systemic defensive frailty. A collection of intercepted back passes, own-goals and goalkeeping howlers rather than indications the likes of Skrtel, Toure and Mignolet are strangers to the art of keeping the ball out of the back of our own net.
Of course, in the long run it doesn’t much matter how the goals are lost if they keep losing you points, but it is easier to eliminate individual errors than it is to overhaul your defensive strategy more than two-thirds into the season.
If Mignolet can play in these remaining 11 games the way he played in his first 11; if Skrtel and co can eliminate the brainfarts that punctuate otherwise competent (and sometimes better) individual performances; if Sakho can get fit quickly and become the player we hope he is; and if Johnson can once again start to resemble the player we know he is, we might just do the unthinkable.
Great read, spot on, especially liked the line… “Maybe, just maybe, this whole season is mad enough to be the one remembered for Aly Cissokho winning a Premier League title” – Reminds me of the fact Djimi Traore has himself a CL winners medal. Good work.
Anyone give me odds for Cissokho ripping in a vital goal from about 25yds out before the season’s end?
Would be fitting considering the craziness of LFC’s season.
All along I have repeated ‘we won’t win it. Fourth is a good season’ but now?..
Can we win it all? Course we can.
Will we win it all? I’m in until it is mathematically impossible.
What a fantastic articles.Echoes exactly what I have been thinking about our title possibility.
We will need at least 7 points from the next 3 games if we are thinking about winning the title.Among those three games, the southampton game is a must win.We can beat cardiff away.Utd away will be difficult even though they are having a shit season.But if we win the next 3 games then we will surely do the unthinkable by bringing that shiny trophy to anfield.
Champions? Nah. 3rd? Definitely on.
We HAVE to beat Spurs though, which means we probably wont. But we should still make it unless there’s a collapse of post LC 2012 proportions…
One of those three away games is against the worst team in the league though, I think so long as we win that, it’ll give us the confidence going into the tough game at Cardiff the following week.
By ‘the worst team in the league’ I assume you’re referring to Manure?? :)