I USUALLY write this reasonably late at night. Usually after 11pm. It’s Monday when I write this and while I’m doing it I’ll stick something light on TV, for a bit of background noise.
Sky has started showing James Corden’s talkshow and, contrary to how he’s perceived in this country, it’s actually quite good. It serves a purpose. Light entertainment when I’m not long in from work, and don’t really fancy watching Newsnight.
The perception of him by people in this country, certainly among people I surround myself with, is that he’s a bit of a bellend. The American audience perceives him differently to my echo chamber, however. He’s been nominated for four Emmy’s, has a £10m contract and CBS paid him £650,000 to move to America. Imagine that conversation ‘Alright James, would you like £650,000 to move to Los Angeles?’ Tough sell.
Some people will no doubt watch The Late Late Show and think it’s absolute rubbish. But that’s fine because different people look at the same thing in different ways. People’s perception of football always fascinates me.
Perception is something that I always find interesting at this time of year. We’ve played three games this season. Every team in the league has played three games. Some teams have overachieved, some teams have underachieved, and some have achieved roughly what you’d have expected.
I look at the league table now. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are level at the top on nine points, Stoke have one point, Burnley have three points, and Hull have six points. There’s a definite argument that the top three could be the top three in May, but maybe they won’t. Have you really learned a great deal about United so far that you didn’t know already? I haven’t. What have you learned about Chelsea after they’ve got nine points on the board? Absolutely nothing. The same with City. They’ve all won three games that they were supposed to win.
The point of this isn’t to denigrate anything that they’ve done. I think they’re all very good teams that will fight for the title in what promises to be the best title race this country might have ever seen — I can honestly say that, if one of six teams won it, I could look at the situation and make sense of it. And that six doesn’t even include the side who won it last season.
I’ve seen a few people mention that it’s important that we don’t lose ground at an early stage of the season. It’s entirely possible that five games into the season we could be seven points off the pace, which is a number people will have a psychological issue with. People seem to look at the league table at this time of year and read a hell of a lot into them.
Why? You don’t really know where you are until the clocks go back at the end of October. Our first five games will feature four teams who I expect to finish in the top seven or eight, and that may be me being unfair to Leicester. Rank our games one to 38 in numbers of difficulty and I think it’s fair to say that three of our five most difficult games on paper are out of the way before the end of September. The league table in August will not tell you this. The league table won’t tell you that we’ll have played a quarter of our away games before the second international break has happened.
Let’s make no mistake, it would be horrible to be come away from Stamford Bridge two weeks on Friday with Liverpool sat in about 14th place with seven points. It’s possible we could have four. It’s possible we could have 10; one thing is for sure, we will not be top of the league. We’ll be looking up and have catching up to do. But that’s absolutely fine. If you didn’t expect that to be the case, having looked at the fixture lists of ourselves and the likes of United, Chelsea and City who’ve had the kind of starts they would almost have handpicked, then you’re deluded.
Performances are what matters for now. If we consistently produce good performances, create chances, defend well, and do the right things, the points will follow. Over such a short period of time, points don’t always accurately reflect what a team has done. 270 minutes is a small sample to analyse anything. Chelsea could easily have five points given a player who could have been sent off twice grabbed two late winners, would they be a worse team? No. Would they be likely to get fewer points from the next 35 games than they are after getting nine points? No. The margins involved in the short period so far are very thin.
People will have different perceptions of the Burnley performance as well. It may well be that that is a template for the season in certain games, let’s hope not. But for now you can just look at it as a one off. It’s annoying because three points there and we’d have had a fantastic start to the season. As it is, it’s alright but frustrating.
I don’t really know what to make of that Burnley performance, is it a template for something that we’ll see more of? Was it an off day? Was it an error in tactics from the manager? Were we tactically outwitted by a well organised and hard working side? You can argue a number of things depending on your viewpoint and dare I say it, AGENDA.
It may be that what you or I think now may be different to what we think in six months. For now I’m happy to look at it as us making a couple of defensive mistakes we’d be unlikely to replicate, and an off day in the final third, and draw a line under it. For now I can forget about it. If I see more of it then I’ll be very concerned. You’re allowed to change what you think after all. People often forget that, while some also seem to be unwilling to do it. Sticking to a viewpoint and refusing to change it is a bit odd.
Regardless of opposition, though, there’s a certain disadvantage to playing three away games to start off with. I remember that dreadful Being Liverpool documentary a few years ago having a segment with Pepe Reina talking about away games and the hotels they stay in and various things like that. He was even as specific as to mention pillows. They aren’t around their family, they aren’t in their own bed, they’re sat in hotels — nice hotels, granted — killing time and waiting around. There’s a comforting familiarity about home games that Liverpool haven’t been a party to yet this season.
I’m not saying footballers are hard done by but anyone who’s ever travelled regularly for work will tell you hotel living, even for a couple of nights, isn’t exactly brilliant. There’s a novelty at first, but doing it regularly takes its toll. Doing it three successive weekends in a hotel won’t have players in a perfect frame of mind, certainly not as good a frame of mind as sleeping in your own bed, or eating breakfast in your own kitchen, would have you.
There’s a lot to think about when you look at the league table in August. A hell of a lot. Don’t look at it and draw conclusions. Three points at home to Leicester and then a good performance at Chelsea and I’ll be pleased with where we are, that could in theory be seven points from five games which, extrapolated over 38 games, isn’t a great level to be at.
But it’s four away games out of the way, the Champions out of the way, and would only really be one truly disappointing result from five. No one is perfect for 38 games and every team will have disappointments because that’s how football works. My Dad has told me roughly a millions times that a Liverpool team once won the league after being 12th at Christmas, so if you’re getting tetchy in September you need to have a think about things.
Yes, some seasons — like Chelsea in 2005/6, and again 2014/15 — the title is pretty much in the bag by Christmas, but that’s a rarity. Say we beat Leicester, because of how that fixture list thing works we physically can’t be more than three points behind City or United.
The interesting part of our season, the part where we’ll really get to know what this team is about, starts on the 22nd of October at home to West Brom. We follow that with a trip to Crystal Palace, welcome Watford to Anfield and then play Southampton (a), Sunderland (h), Bournemouth (a), West Ham (h), and Middlesbrough (a). Judge us in December when we’re 16 games in and things have started to take shape. Or in November, if this run started really badly. But not now. That’s pointless.
It’s not a sprint as Neil regularly says, it’s an 800m race. We’re basically in lane one on the first bend — we can see them in front of us but we aren’t really behind. No one’s ahead because there’s 35 games to go.
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