CHELSEA played. And won. Merry Christmas.
Manchester City played. And won. Merry Christmas.
Arsenal played. And won. Merry Christmas.
For those of you still mildly concerned Manchester United played and won. Merry Christmas. (Quietly United are genuinely playing very well indeed you know).
And so to The Reds. Playing knowing the above must be no barrel of laughs. We can do the grown up footballer thing of “they are all games we want to win” but this is needing to win just to keep pace. That’s where Liverpool are. Where everyone is. Chelsea are setting the pace and everyone else is just keeping it currently. It’s tough; it’s football. Occasionally a side gets on a run and the best thing to be done is just strapping in and hanging on.
Liverpool are doing that. Exactly that. You win nothing in December. Chelsea may be doing their best to disprove that maxim, but even they can’t manage that. You win nothing in December. You can lose it. Liverpool haven’t lost it. Haven’t looked like losing it…well, not until the first twenty or so tonight. For the first twenty or so tonight Liverpool were very poor indeed. It may be that Stoke were at it – a game plan working and players believing. That might well be the case. But Liverpool were short in every area. No single player acquitted themselves well. Up top nothing stuck. Henderson wasn’t in the game. Both Lovren and Klavan were poor. For the Stoke goal the goalkeeper is diving backwards. Two crosses came in far too easily.
Liverpool never exactly came alive. They didn’t deserve 2-1 at the break but they took 2-1. Took their chances with aplomb. They wore Stoke down, another side who had put their energy chips on the first 30 minutes found the dice against them. Liverpool the stronger if not better side as the break approached. Certainly the more fortunate side which counts for something. Napoleon wanted lucky generals. I’ll take lucky champions any day of the week.
By the time the final whistle goes Liverpool are anything but lucky winners. The second half belongs only to them. Stoke are beaten. Their gaps have been exploited. All the ways their three at the back shape helped first half begins to hinder. Liverpool are whatever the notch below rampant is. Liverpool are just better, better and ahead. That most diabolical of combinations.
Along the way a number of performances have improved. Milner, Henderson and Lallana have got themselves and their teammates right into the game. Mane edges towards unplayable. Firmino bright as a button. Sturridge enters the fray and brings the wrigglies with him, a precursor to a Liverpudlian night out. A chance to say Merry Christmas Everton one last time.
All I wanted for Christmas were me three Merseyside wins. Father Christmas has done the decent thing and supplied two of them. Six points from six when that is the pace to live with. Those points are in the bag.
New Years Eve then. New Years Eve last thing with it all on the line. New Years Eve as it should always have been, Liverpool and Manchester City reminding us why it is a joy to be alive, why it means everything, why this thing of ours is the main event in our lives.
What are the highlights of your year? You might be a better rounded human than me but the majority of my top 10 in this dog of a year involve this thing of ours. Lallana at Norwich, karaoke after Chelsea, Lovren at the back post.
Firmino at Palace, Steve Graves at Boro; in excelsis deo at the football in front of him, Origi against Sunderland.
Mane at Goodison, Mane at Goodison, Mane at Goodison.
And so the New Year approaches. One last chance to do that most decent of things and send this crowd into rapture. One last chance to be the most magnificent Reds. That game starts now.
Up the NYE Reds. May we all sing in the street afterwards.