THE Brazilians have a football aphorism: “Quem nao faz toma.” If you don’t score when you’re on top you will lose. Kind of.
Stating the obvious? Well, yes, but there’s nuance to it. There’s implication that the reverse is also true. That the blow that does not break your back will make you stronger.
Manchester City this week may well have been the incarnation of this. A six-without-a-win drought ended with a 4-0 away win at West Brom and celebrated in some style with a 3-1 shaming of mighty Barcelona. Six-without-a-win Manchester City are still top of the Premier League.
The reason they’re still so seaworthy and still carry the champions elect mantel is not primarily about their emphatic powers of recovery.
They are top because they opened this season with 10 straight wins. They made that hay while the sun was shining for them. They surfed that wave when the tides and currents were all for them. They ‘scored’ when they were on top. They provided themselves with a platform, a cushion, that allowed for those six games without a win. They had built-in contingency.
Liverpool haven’t had a drought yet. We’ve had a bona-fide blip. It lasted for one game and the townspeople of Burnley still sing songs and have public holidays to commemorate it. Liverpool are swimming with their tide. Still scoring from the top.
Last week’s 4-2 win at Palace felt like something of a landmark. That Alan Pardew’s side would at some stage throw their kitchen sink at the situation was never in doubt. That they represented willing hyenas readied to pick and feast at the carcass of any frail version of Liverpool was a sure thing.
Liverpool’s mission — the manager’s mission — was to get minds set correctly. To think outside that box that Crystal Palace try to encase Liverpool teams in. To think like champions.
And so it came to pass. It was more like a mad Champions League final than a routine Premier League fixture, but the new Liverpool looked at trial by Crystal Palace, laughed, pushed them aside and marched on.
It felt like a marker. A new zenith of sorts, but hopefully not the crest of this wave. In a sense, Liverpool needed Crystal Palace. In microcosm that mad stadium of theirs is home to all Liverpool demons. We’ve had all our bad games in that ground. Each and every variety.
Liverpool on top. Top but not clear. Resilient, resurgent City are with us. Arsenal, too. Chelsea and Spurs refusing to be shaken.
League titles are mainly won from the front. Start well, get noses in front. Win clever, draw clever, stay calm, pull away.
The Reds world is giddy with title dreaming but it’s too soon. It’s good, it’s great, but not yet. The winning while we’re playing this well needs to continue. Watford at Anfield on a Sunday dinnertime. Ordinarily, a no big shakes game. Now, epoch defining. Where the world sees Premier League mid-rankers in Watford, we see yet another dragon blocking our path. Another beast to be slain. A further point to be proved.
The Hornets, inconveniently, won’t view themselves as bit part players in our story. They are having a strange season and are living on a cusp in their history. It looks like it goes two ways for them from here on in. They keep getting those wins that still surprise and keep them in the safe lands of Premier League placings seven to 13, or they start to slide. Their following know that, traditionally, when Watfords slide they don’t stop sliding.
Watford are that shark that must keep moving forward to exist. If they pause for thought they will be playing in League One before you can say Wigan Athletic.
Klopp will warn his Liverpool of the dangers of ignoring Watford’s motivation. The folly of forgetting that they are also writing their history. The Liverpool manager will be grateful that he now has a squad where only the mentally strong survive. In assessing his inheritance last campaign he became acutely aware that there was not sufficient competition for first-team places.
Simon Mignolet unchallenged in goal. Full backs Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno undroppable. Emre Can essential. Philippe Coutinho indispensable. Daniel Sturridge the talisman we always prayed would be fit.
Things seem so different now. There is not a solitary individual who the current squad couldn’t compensate for should injury befall him. Even Coutinho.
Some may fret and fear the consequences of a Sadio Mane injury (or his departure to the Africa Cup of Nations in the New Year), but it’s a fair bet Klopp doesn’t. We saw in the League Cup game at home to Tottenham that the Liverpool manager’s plan B is an exciting and productive alternative .
Klopp’s selection tomorrow afternoon will be revelatory. Emre Can edged out the previously unimpeachable Gini Wijnaldum at Crystal Palace, Can’s physical assets perhaps swinging the vote his way. Could it swing back Gini’s way for Watford’s sake?
James Milner was busily carving himself a reputation as the league’s best left back until minor injury intervened. He’s fit and bursting for a recall but Alberto Moreno was so impressive going forward last weekend that it wouldn’t a total surprise if Milner had to wait a bit longer to see action.
Likewise the front three — Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Mane — seem set in stone, but the two Brazilians will undoubtedly face a busy international break next week and Klopp may view Sunday as an opportunity to pre-emptively take miles out of legs. Sturridge and Divock Origi will undoubtedly hope Klopp sees it this way.
Fortunately for now, injury anxieties are for another day and time, the unfortunate situation with Danny Ings aside. Liverpool are on top. This Liverpool, thus far, are always on top.
Predicted Reds 11 to sting the Hornets: Karius; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Lallana; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.