IT’S HEARTBREAKING, IT REALLY IS. Liverpool pushed all they had but sometimes you can be shut down and stopped. Football is about choices, a series of choices, made by footballers and by football managers. Football isn’t moral. We get far too hung up on that. Liverpool have far more often than not made the right choice this campaign. They’ve made the right overarching choice. To score goals. Today they were shut down by an outfit that has made the choice that that is their thing. It worked today, it could elicit a European Cup but they are still most likely to finish third.
This game should have been moved to Saturday. Jose Mourinho was right about that. It should have been moved to give Chelsea the best possible chance across these three games. Next season, when we are in the European Cup semi final, we’re all going to be furious when the Premier League don’t move one of our games in order to give us the best possible chance to progress.
He’s also right about the fact that Chelsea haven’t been given enough credit for their performances in European competition over the last ten years. Forgetting co-efficients (only because they are dull, not because they aren’t important) Chelsea have been brilliant in Europe at a time when we are saturated with Europe. When Celtic win Britain’s first European Cup, United win England’s and when Liverpool dominate Europe, Europe had mystique. You couldn’t watch everything, you couldn’t see everyone. Chelsea haven’t dominated but have a terrific record over the last ten years when Britain and England have a smorgasbord of Europe proffered them and often turn their noses up. (The same thing happens with the commentators by the way. You are sick of Tyldesley not because he isn’t a good commentator; he is. It’s because he’s rammed down your throat weekly, locked in a past where everyone wants the English team to do well, there is no other way to commentate on those games). There’s less mystique, less romance, just tons and tons of Gazprom for you to share with your mates. Rub Gazprom on your chest. It’ll get you through the winter. Who gives a shit about Chelsea?
Yet Chelsea, specifically under Mourinho, appear to have managed to do what Arsenal, City, Everton and Spurs haven’t over the last fifteen, twenty years – create a winning mentality around a football club that sustains – see DiMatteo’s European Cup win. All the above bottle that somewhere along the way. Arguably only Liverpool and Manchester United have managed that in the modern (post Shankly/Busby) era, which is why we’ve actually handled this whole “winning the league thing” pretty well even though we feel like our hearts are about to burst. It’s why United will come again, why the last twenty four years for us haven’t been lean compared to almost everyone else, despite the lack of the title.
The problem Mourinho has is that if you complain about everything then people stop listening. Him again, with the face on. Take Garcia’s goal (not a ghost goal, a goal, it says so in the record books) against them in that semi. No, the European Cup semi, not the FA Cup semi. Take that goal. Would have been a penalty and sending off, instead his side which finished more than thirty points ahead of Liverpool failed to equalise. Not win. Equalise.
Complaining about not having good enough centre forwards, about refereeing conspiracies and so on and so forth. Adopting a “no one likes us/me and we/I don’t care” mentality has its plusses. But what about when you need/want people to care?
Jose Mourinho. The Whopper Who Cried Wolf. The massive, massive whopper who cried “wolves, shitloads of wolves. Alien wolves. Wolves with antlers and glowing in the dark and nuclear teeth and three dicks and a comprehensive knowledge of Bertrand Russell’s work and claws the size of radiators.” No, Jose. It’s one wolf. And you are a really good football manager so do us a favour and put a sock in it and get on with that, will you.
All in, some things have fallen Liverpool’s way this campaign. We got, with the exception of that horror show around Christmas, the fixtures we needed. Straight forward homes in the first half of the season – Norwich City, West Ham United, Manchester United – and tougher home fixtures in the run in. But things falling your way still need to be taken advantage of. Here is a list of taking advantage of things:
Tottenham Hotspur 4-0
Manchester City 3-2
That’s taking advantage of things with aplomb. Next season, we could probably do with those fixtures the other way round. But you get what you are given and you make the best of it. So we’ve had injuries, suspensions and so on and so forth like everyone. We were top before we played City and Chelsea away, we’re the best side since playing City and Chelsea away. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve addressed thirty six hurdles and nothing has hurt that this. Nothing has been more heartbreaking than this result.
This football manager of ours wanted to add twenty goals this season. He didn’t get a player to help with that. He got what he was given. And he made the best of it. He’s worked with what he had – no public tantrums, wolfwhopper – and added more than twenty goals. He’s accelerated past his own KPI – get on me, I’ll be getting invited round the stats lads’s houses for dinner – and Liverpool have accelerated up the table. What I believe he noticed is that the side that scores the most goals has finished first or second in every season since Arsenal won the league and the Houllier/Thompson side finished second. Manchester United outscored both and came third.
This team now finishes first or second. This team still finishes first.
Brendan Rodgers got his side playing the fearless football that sees the ball go into the back of the net with astounding regularity. When we were fretting in the summer about becoming more solid, he looked at what he had and he made a choice. He made a pragmatic choice. Pragmatism isn’t defensive football, too often it is used as a synonym of that. You will hear loads about pragmatism in the light of this Chelsea win. Pragmatism is deciding what is most likely to get your success. Arguably Mourinho, locked in a mire about centre forward options has been the more idealistic, the more dogmatic manager this campaign. Today that dogma paid off in spades. It isn’t that they aren’t good at this. They are the best. It is, though, the value of what they are the best of. Chelsea in Mourinho’s first spell were solid but they had goals in spades. They were top scorers. They finished first or second.
Chelsea were excellent today at stopping The Reds. Liverpool got anxious, fell behind. I’m heartbroken for the captain but the response of the ground was sublime.
Too many were looking to force the issue, second half. Too many looking to go alone. In a curate’s egg of a cameo Aspas showed the value of collective guile. He also showed why he doesn’t get on.
The most interesting chant was the one that closed the game from the Chelsea contingent. They belted it out. Now you are going to believe us. We’re going to win the league. They have two points fewer than Liverpool. They are reliant on Manchester City and Liverpool dropping more points. They belted it out. They are still most likely to finish third.
That’s football. That’s belief. Reality is that they are most likely to finish third.
It’s heartbreaking. The opening goal especially. But it isn’t belief breaking. Not from where I sit.
It is easy to sing that we are going to win the league when you win eleven consecutive games. I’ll belt it out tonight. I believe it. Let me ask you a question – now are YOU, YOU going to believe us?
Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda