HAVING to win to stand still is what we had to do. And it’s demoralising.
At kick-off at Anfield yesterday Liverpool trailed Chelsea by nine points at the top of the league. The timing of the fixtures meant there had been no opportunity closing what was a six-point gap before Chelsea kicked off their match v Bournemouth on Boxing Day.
Everything Liverpool are doing at present should be about closing that gap on Chelsea and playing after them isn’t great.
Antonio Conte’s side face yesterday’s opponents Stoke on Saturday at 3pm. Liverpool, as we all know, play Manchester City at 5.30pm and it would be lovely if Stoke were able to give us the opportunity to close that gap to four points, or even three.
If that doesn’t happen — and should we follow up yesterday’s win with three points against City on New Year’s Eve — Liverpool get the opportunity at Sunderland on the 2nd to send Chelsea to White Hart Lane on January 4 with the gap at three points.
It feels like we’re hanging on to the coat tails a little at the minute — Chelsea don’t look invincible to the naked eye but their results are bordering on ridiculous. They’ve won every league game they’ve played for over three months now. A quarter of a year of consecutive league wins.
It’s a fantastic achievement but I don’t half wish Kevin De Bruyne hadn’t missed that open goal when City led 1-0 in their game the other week. The psychological side of seeing Chelsea three points closer and not going nine points behind them when the fixture list doesn’t work our way would be huge.
Liverpool always seem to do this, however — every season that the Reds seem to have a chance of winning the title we seem to run in to one, as they’d say in the world of horse racing.
We were in the mix in 2002 and one of Arsenal’s best ever sides decided to exist that season. In 2006 we put together a good side and produced a really good performance in a league season in relative terms but Chelsea decided they would be sat there on New Year’s Day with 55 points from a possible 60. Fifty five from 60. How do you compete with that?
The answer: you can’t. In 2009 we had a similar situation when Manchester United produced a run of form around this time of year when they took 40 points from 42 and went 13 games without conceding a goal. Never mind 13 consecutive wins — they went 13 games without another team putting the ball in the back of the net. There were eight 1-0 wins in that period — a period that stopped us from winning the League.
For some, “Rafa’s Rant” apparently stopped us from winning the league that season. Looks a bit daft when put like that, doesn’t it?
Then there was 2013-14 but if you want to read about how that season unfolded, use those book tokens you got for Christmas and buy Make Us Dream. We were really good, City were also really good . You saw it, you get it. It was in our hands, but City were also really good that season. If they hadn’t have been we would have won the league.
This season we have plenty of good sides. Chelsea are almost robotic, City are capable of beating any team on the planet, Arsenal are dangerous and very good at extracting maximum points from the dross, and then there’s Manchester United who Jose Mourinho really seems to have got ticking.
All of these teams would probably have won the title if they had existed like they currently are last season. One of these five teams will miss out on Champions League football next season and we haven’t even mentioned Spurs.
Other sides, (looking at you, Leicester) are fortunate in a way. You get seasons where plenty of sides are going through transition or the general quality just isn’t up to it. Why can’t we be good when one of these seasons happens? As good as Manchester United were under Alex Ferguson there were plenty of seasons when they were so far above the competition they were able to win a title simply by being six out of 10. It happens. But the way the Premier League is going makes it pretty unlikely that it will happen again.
86 – Liverpool have netted 86 league goals in 2016; their most in a calendar year since 1985 (87). Unrelenting. pic.twitter.com/4owA3E8KIL
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 27, 2016
The league at present is similar to Serie A around the turn of the century when Juventus, Milan, Inter, Fiorentina, Lazio, Roma and Parma all had really strong sides and the world’s best players went to play there.
The Premier League title hasn’t been retained since 2009 and four different clubs have lifted the trophy in that time. Around the turn of the century in Italy, Juventus and Milan won titles, while Lazio and Roma ended huge waits for the crown and eight different sides achieved a top four place in the space of four seasons. It was super competitive. The Premier League is incredibly competitive now.
It is what it is and no amount of looking at Chelsea and getting annoyed will change that. We’re a fantastic football side with a great manager. The issue that we have is there are arguably six sides in the same situation. If we come third this season then we start again in August, have another crack, improve areas of weakness, work harder, and just be the best that we can. That’s all we can ask.
Liverpool are powerless to influence what other sides do and all this side can do is to keep on grinding. Grind away, win games, pick up points and score as many goals as possible. It’s going to be hard, but when you really want something you have to accept that it isn’t always as straightforward as you like. And you find a way. Life isn’t easy, football isn’t easy. Don’t give up, just keep going.
Straight in Saturday — let’s make Anfield a cauldron.