‘It appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory’
THE final scene of the phenomenal HBO drama True Detective sees Woody Harrelson’s character – Marty Hart – utter that sentence with a resigned, pessimistic tone as he looks up at the Louisiana night sky.
As Chelsea left Anfield with a smash and grab three points on Sunday afternoon, those words sprung immediately to mind. In a footballing sense, darkness had indeed overwhelmed the light. A black hole had swallowed a star, if you will. The team that has has lit up the Premier League with their 96 goals and vibrant attacking style was shut down by a nine-man defensive wall of pure footballing existentialism. As a result, the destination of the Premier League title no longer resides in Liverpool’s hands. That prize is now Manchester City’s to lose.
First though, to Chelsea and him.
Much has been made of how Jose Mourinho’s team went about obtaining their 2-0 victory. The opinions have varied widely. Some condemn Chelsea’s approach as ‘anti-football’ and lament their laborious time-wasting. Some scoff at their steadfast dedication to stifling Liverpool while trusting to the hope of Stoke-style long throw-ins from the excellent Cesar Azpilicueta. Others labelled Chelsea’s victory as a ‘Mourinho Masterclass’™. Such is the nature of football and how it can be interpreted.
Wherever your opinion falls on this particular spectrum, the outcome cannot be disputed. Chelsea won. Liverpool lost.
Across social media, frustration, despair and anger predictably spilled from Reds at the final whistle. Yet inside the ground, that most wonderful football ground, the reaction was more appropriate and reasoned. You’ll Never Walk Alone rang out when Willian sealed Liverpool’s fate. It usually does at such moments. Perspective is required and, thankfully, it was evident as the final whistle blew in L4.
It is important to remember that Liverpool shouldn’t really be here. And yet, here they are. Top of the table. In April. Here on merit. On May 11th they will be where they deserve to be as well. The worst case scenario in a fortnight’s time for Brendan Rodgers’ team is a third-place finish and guaranteed Champions League football next term.
Not bad at all. But who wants to talk about worst-case scenarios?
If Liverpool can win their last two games then no team will finish with more points than them. Not Manchester City. They can only match the Reds’ maximum available points total regardless of their eye-watering transfer fees, outrageous wage bill and squad as deep as the Atlantic. Not Chelsea, either. Despite their latest victory, Roman Abramovich’s club can’t finish above Liverpool if the Reds manage to secure even four of those six remaining points on offer.
He may have sprinted down the Anfield touchline like a madman in yet another moment of spotlight seeking, but should Jose Mourinho’s former protege finish above him in the Premier League table, then the Portuguese will ultimately take little solace from this victory. If that comes to pass then ‘The Special One’ will internally view his domestic season as a failure, regardless of what he says to the contrary.
Ah, what he says.
Off the field, Mourinho is the master of narrative. Certainly in this country. Nine years on, he still moans about Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ in his press conferences. He does so safe in the knowledge that he won’t be reminded that, had that goal not been awarded, then his side would have been down to 10 men and facing a penalty. He can also cheekily ask the press ‘what is time wasting?’ and ‘what is defensive football?’ in the wake of this performance at Anfield which – rightly or wrongly – was indisputably defined by both. He knows he can ask such questions without being pulled up on the fact that he has bemoaned the same such techniques this season when he has been on the receiving end of them. See his comments after the West Ham game at Stamford Bridge. His hypocrisy is rarely challenged.
As Pep Guardiola astutely and forcibly declared during his time as Barcelona manager, “In here (the press room) Mourinho is the fucking man.”
Indeed he is. And good for him. Whatever myopic spin he wishes to stamp on top of it, his side earned a victory at Anfield. That deserves respect.
And yet, in spite of their victory on Sunday and all the plaudits aimed towards the nation’s capital, Chelsea remain third favourites in a three-horse race while the Reds require just two more victories and a solitary slip from Manchester City to clinch the Premier League crown. Nobody really thought that possible at the beginning of the season. Not even the most wildly-optimistic Liverpool supporter.
The mention of optimism brings us neatly back to that final scene from True Detective. After Marty Hart speaks of the overwhelming darkness in the night sky, his partner Rust Cohle offers a more positive and encouraging perspective to play the series out. His words should serve as a neat reminder to any deflated Liverpool fan of just how far their team has progressed this season and, crucially, where they can still go.
‘You’re looking at it wrong, Marty. Once there was only dark. If you ask me the light is winning.’
Selhurst Park. Monday night. Liverpool go again.