I HAVE struggled with motivation.
I have struggled with anxiety.
I have struggled with nerves.
I have struggled just to get in my car and drive to Anfield on a match day.
It is fair to say that I probably fell out of love with the game for the best part of 18 months.
I have tried to make sense of the mess in my head. How could I be such an avid supporter for so long, and yet have gone through such a motivational slump?
I have come to the conclusion that I was just burnt out. The mental exhaustion of coming so close to winning the league in the 2013/14 season had taken its toll. To witness your team go from almost achieving the impossible to being so disjointed, lethargic and even uninterested at times was hard to take.
In 2013/14, it seemed like we had a manager in place who allowed our players to express themselves, while also learning what needed to happen the following season to get over the line. I was disappointed and dejected when it all went so horribly wrong, and with it realisation hit that maybe the manager was not going to develop the way I had hoped.
I suppose I ended up in a football slumber. I struggled to find the energy to go again.
I often feel that as supporters we have to go through the hard times, the absolute worst in order to really appreciate the good times. I couldn’t see how we could attract a really top manager and bring back the good times. We would be stuck in the vicious circle of jumping from mediocre manager to mediocre manager.
I couldn’t see how we could attract the top players I felt we needed in order to compete again. We would forever be left taking chances on players with potential, or fallen stars who you hoped would come good again.
I look at myself now and wonder how I could ever have any doubts. This is Liverpool. Who wouldn’t want to manage us, given the opportunity? Who wouldn’t want to put that red shirt on and let The Kop drive you on to perform at a level even they would doubt they could muster?
We now have a manager, in Jürgen Klopp, and a group of players who have managed to transform the belief in all of us. In little over 12 months we have gone from 10th in the Premier League table, to reaching the summit.
There are many arguments why other teams are seen as better placed to be at the top of the table come the end of the 38th game of this season. On paper, we possibly have the least hyped players out of all of the contenders. The least number of “stars”. But paper doesn’t win you games. Heart, courage and holding your nerve does. The manager and the players are showing plenty of all of those attributes at the moment, along with playing the best football I have ever seen from a Liverpool team.
A real togetherness has formed between the players, manager and fans alike. Momentum appears to be building and every challenge is being met with the sort of disregard the teams of the ‘70s and ‘80s used to treat them with.
My head is starting to go and I currently feel like I am in a massive game of Kerplunk, struggling to keep the cocktail sticks in place so that I don’t lose my marbles.
It has led to me thinking long and hard about what we need to do in order to win the league. How can we manage to do what we haven’t managed to do since 1990? I’ve got spreadsheets coming out of my ears looking at all different kinds of stats and there is just one that keeps sticking out – the league winner’s home form.
In all but five of the previous 24 Premier League campaigns, the winner of the trophy has had the best record at their home ground. In fact in four of the seasons they did not they were just one point off having the best record. On the other occasion the winner was three points off. And since the 2002/3 season, every league winning team has had the best home record.
In 2008/9 we missed out on winning the league by four points, but the winners Manchester United won seven more points than us at home. In 2013/14 season we missed out on the league by two points – Manchester City won three more points than us at home. That was where we lost out.
Liverpool currently have the best home record this season after five games – with just the one draw against Manchester United the only blip. Chelsea had four wins and one loss (to Liverpool) in their first five home games giving them the second best record. If we win against Sunderland, we will better their current tally.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that City are struggling to stick in the race, but with three draws at home against Middlesbrough, Southampton and Everton, I can’t help but feel that they have put an awful lot of pressure on themselves to win the next three home games against Chelsea, Watford and Arsenal. And let’s not forget they will also have United, Tottenham and Liverpool to entertain.
So, we all know we can make Anfield a nightmare for teams to come and play on the big occasion. But, in order to win this league we need to make Anfield a cauldron for the remaining 14 home games. Each and every one of them is massive. The next game is always the most important.
I think back to 2013/14 and remember a City mate of mine taking the piss out of us lining the streets to welcome the team bus. “You lot thought you had it won,” he would say. What he failed to understand was that we knew that every little thing could potentially help. We were attempting to achieve something that midway through the season looked impossible. If we could give the players an extra two per cent then we would do whatever it takes. We didn’t think we had it won – we just believed that we stood a better chance if we made the players feel great about themselves.
We have only bettered this start in one other Premier League season. In 2002/3 we had one point more. We hit 30 points after 12 games, but then went on an 11-game winless run. It consisted of six defeats and five draws. We cannot allow that to happen again.
The lads are doing the business on the pitch and making it hell for the opposition, so let us do the business off it. If we need to line the streets to help them lift the trophy, then let’s do it.
Let’s do whatever it takes and treat every game like there is no tomorrow.
Up the top of the table Reds!