DROPPED points elsewhere. Every game matters. True and tiring – every game matters.
I’m in Las Vegas, New York New York and I wake at 6.20am, 20 minutes before my alarm is set. The alarm being set then felt optimistic but, somewhere on some string theory level of dropped points awareness, I sit up straight and check my phone. Spurs have dropped points and I have dropped last night, dropped the hangover, dropped the mild angst about money spent and drinks drunk. Spurs have dropped points and my Saturday has started because every game matters.
Every game matters. I watch Arsenal versus Middlesbrough, a 7am special and good lord was it special. Arsenal poor for an hour before banging on a door which wouldn’t open. When the flag goes up on what would be Mesut Ozil’s late winner I bang the table and celebrate. Nil-nil. Dropped points. Rivals dropping points. Liverpool cannot afford to drop points. Not now. Tortured by the prospect of it; it isn’t yet 9am and I go in search of cans.
They do big cans in Las Vegas. A can bigger than a pint. I got two which meant they had to give me a miniature bottle of vodka. One of them. They do big everything. Their game really isn’t one of subtlety and I found the first day and a half difficult to deal with. The opulence is staggering, overwhelming and the feeling the party is always somewhere else is akin to London, someone somewhere is having much more fun and if only you knew. But then something clicks and suddenly the party is everywhere. Blackjack, craps and karaoke off strip on Friday night in a gaff which is steeped in a tawdry glory and a glorious tawdriness and there it is, the whole shebang in one.
I get a bar in the hotel to put the game on. The barman doesn’t know much about the Reds. He asks questions and gets thorough answers about the Reds. Liverpool start well – Emre Can and Jordan Henderson’s movement fascinating, the television angle showing the shape flickering all over the pitch. Centre-halves rotating, Liverpool pushing to find every angle, James Milner filling in, everyone filling in. One more: pop, pop, pop.
From West Brom’s point of view, the goal comes as they should have just overcome the early assault. It’s a beautiful goal, the football perpetually moving, West Brom always one step behind and who can blame them. The second is Liverpool forcing their will on their opponents. The closing down leading to the backpass. The backpass being pressed in turn and suddenly the ball is Liverpool’s 25 yards from their goal and suddenly the game is beyond West Brom. Liverpool rampant. Our ball, our game, our will.
The front three combine in a manner which justifiably leaves both Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi starting games from the bench. The game approached the hour with Liverpool utterly dominant. West Brom haven’t had a shot. Roberto Firmino misses a very good chance and then has one blocked, after Ben Foster’s save from Dejan Lovren but that’s as far as any gentle criticism could go. He was excellent again and, alongside Lallana, stitches everything good this Liverpool side does together.
You can’t take your eyes off the Reds, West Brom penned in. Imagine playing against them. Imagine your desperation for any break in play.
But all the dominance doesn’t kill West Brom in the same way a third would. A lesson there – Liverpool should be three or four clear but instead we’re pulled back with 10 to go and the missed opportunities begin to gnaw at the side and the support and the chances to put the game back to bed keep coming but aren’t converted. There is the threat of dropped points. It’s real, heart pounding.
The final whistle goes and it is sweeter relief than it should have been. No dropped points, though. Liverpool will not be denied, not today. We will not be denied.
And so I’ll tell you where the party is today, despite the heart rendering last 10 minutes. Where the most fun in this Premier League is right now. It’s us. The party is in Liverpool and the party is in the chest of every Liverpool supporter in the world. The party is me, a full Saturday opening up and a 30th birthday to celebrate. The party is that nine – we’re a quarter of the way through – have been played, the toughest nine in the division and Liverpool sit level on points, top of the tree, albeit only for a day in all likelihood, though further points could be dropped. May be dropped. Can be dropped.
We know that knife-edge.
I’ll probably end up setting an alarm for 5.30am. The party never stops, not now, not in Liverpool and not in any part of the world you are in. Not till May. It can all end in heartbreak but what’s any gamble worth if losing doesn’t hurt, if the adventure doesn’t pulsate. Joy to be alive watching this side. Our side.
Up the not dropping points Reds. The very best kind.