WHEN it comes to sport, at my heart, I am a bit of a pessimist. Not one that drones on and on with constant negativity, but rather one who is very reluctant to get carried away too quickly.
In 2014, as Liverpool’s steam train rolled relentlessly on towards the league title, I did not let any combination of “league, winners or champions” cross my lips. I had even stamped out the mental images of Steven Gerrard lifting the trophy high above his head in front of a delirious Anfield.
It was after the Manchester City game that I first allowed myself to say out loud that I thought Liverpool would win the league. And when events unfolded as they did, the little fatalist voice in my head told me that’s what happens when you get ahead of yourself.
Yet, this year, not even halfway through the season, I have already spoken words to the effect that I think Liverpool could win the league.
Why offer you this glimpse into the psychology of my support for the Reds? To make one simple point: this season, everything is more than a bit mad.
Such has been the madness of this season as a whole so far, it does not take a one-eyed optimist to make the case for Liverpool winning the league. Cases are being made for Leicester winning it. So why not us? Equally, it would not take a killjoy pessimist to put forward a scenario where the Reds may finish fifth.
Last weekend was another filled with surprises and shocks, unexpected results and unusual outcomes. A weekend that started with Stoke beating Man City 2-0 ended with the same score in favour of Newcastle over Liverpool. And that is without mentioning United drawing with West Ham, Spurs with West Brom, Chelsea losing at home to Bournemouth and Leicester City ending the weekend on top of the table.
It seems as though this season, the league has become that elderly relative who has stopped caring what others think and voices any opinion they like. Not the best thing to show off to the neighbours but bloody hell is it good fun.
This season has been so significantly mad that on Saturday, the reigning champions losing at home to a promoted side sitting in 18th was only good enough to be fourth in the running order for Match of the Day. Three other games were deemed to be a bigger story. It has now become accepted in this madcap season that Chelsea can lose to Bournemouth. This is a thing that can happen and won’t even make the biggest splash of the day.
Leading the charge into madness this season have been Liverpool. Such has been the hectic nature of the fixture list that it has become normal to think of Jürgen Klopp as the manager. It seems as though he has been here ages now.
But stop to think about it for a second. How brilliantly mad is it that Klopp is Liverpool’s manager? It can still sometimes be faintly unbelievable sometimes to catch a press-conference and see him sat at the desk all decked out in the club’s training gear. But there he is. And it has already been accepted as normal.
It is not just the manager that is hard to wrap one’s head around with Liverpool this season. They have dismantled Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, battered Man City away and gone to Southampton in the Carling Cup and handed out a 6-1 hammering. In the same space of time, they have lost (and played poorly) against Crystal Palace and Newcastle.
And all of that has happened since Klopp took over.
There will be more good days than bad for Klopp’s Reds this season.
There is too much about this manager and this squad for this not to be the case. Making any other concrete predictions beyond that, however, becomes difficult.
There cannot be outcry every time this team has a bad result this season (it has to be said that the usual burst of negativity that follows a Liverpool defeat was largely absent after Newcastle at the weekend). Pessimists will have to hold their tongue. The pattern of this season has shown us that trying too hard to figure things out will only end badly for you.
The madness of this season is different to that of 2014. That year the madness was all of Liverpool’s making.
It was a madness of scoring and winning, winning and scoring and never looking like they wanted to stop doing either. Watching the team was like watching a magician, turning an away fixture at Stoke into a 3-5 thriller and pulling from a hat a 5-1 hammering of Arsenal.
This season is more akin to a three-ringed circus with no ringmaster — most sides in the league seem in on the act.
The thing about this madness, be it the magician in 2014 or this year’s circus, is that it is brilliant fun. And that’s why we follow football. Because it’s fun. And the madder things get, the more fun they become, too. We don’t watch football to see a team bore their way through game after game. We watch football to see brilliant things, mad things, things that make us shout and roar and jump up and down.
Liverpool earlier this season had become a tough watch. It was a worry watching them. You worried about them playing three at the back. You worried about what the plan was, how they hoped to do the things that made goals happened. You worried if they did not score early in games and you worried if they went behind.
For a few weeks it stopped being as fun as it had been.
But now. Klopp is here. The madness is here. And it’s fun again.
In this crazy season, it is not mad to talk about Liverpool winning the league, nor is it mad to talk about them missing out on the top four. But not enjoying these Reds playing football? Now that would be mad.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo