IT’S beyond ludicrous to be playing two games in less than 48 hours. It was the same for both sides, yes — regardless, it makes no sense whatsoever.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have been given an extra two days off. It’s difficult to overstate the difference that makes.
Do not underestimate the mental toll this season is taking on Liverpool’s players. Having to constantly close the gap on Chelsea while fending off the chasing pack must be exhausting for body and mind. The will-power to grind out that 1-0 victory against Manchester City was extreme.
Jürgen Klopp took a calculated gamble against Sunderland and went for maintaining rhythm rather than resting tired legs. In hindsight, it is easy to say Alberto Moreno, Lucas Leiva and Divock Origi ought to have started given how leggy Liverpool looked on the day. Yet it is very possible that disrupting a winning side with so many changes may not have brought all three points either.
None of this is an excuse for dropping points. Liverpool should still have too much for a Sunderland side thrashed 4-1 by Burnley just two days prior, and to surrender a lead on two occasions by giving away two penalties is as reckless as it is frustrating.
But that is football. Points get dropped, and had Liverpool been offered 10 points from 12 over the festive period, I’m sure most would have gladly accepted. It’s the manner in which the Reds dropped them that is infuriating.
Chelsea could have been feeling the heat with the gap closed to three points before their trip to White Hart Lane on Wednesday. Instead, they have the opportunity to go eight points in front should they be able to overcome Spurs.
Liverpool are now looking over shoulders, too.
This one really hurts — it’s one of the most sickening results we’ve had in a long time, given the context of the title race. But we have a choice in how we respond to set-backs like these, and this is where I have a bone to pick.
I don’t have the privilege of being able to go and watch Liverpool games live on a weekly basis, so I can’t pass comment on the reaction of the crowd in the stadium at the time. A quick glance at social media after the game, though, and it’s the same old full-on meltdown from so many yet again. It happened after Burnley. It happened after Bournemouth. West Ham, too.
Our fans, as a collective it seems, are not good at responding to set-backs. I’ve seen people saying Liverpool do not deserve to win the title and that we might as well just pack it in and hand the trophy over to Chelsea right now. With 18 games to go. Eighteen. Fifty-four points still to play for.
This defeatist, reactionary mentality is exactly what Klopp was referring to when he said he wanted to change doubters to believers. We all have a role to play in this. You can guarantee that Klopp and the players will already have moved on from the Sunderland game. They won’t for one second be thinking that the title race is over.
Neither should we.
This manager and this group of players have shown what they’re capable of this season — they’ve earned our trust and deserve to have the fans fully on side, not just when we win, but after every single set-back. Because that is how Liverpool will achieve success under Klopp. Everyone together, believing it can happen — not throwing a tantrum every time things don’t go our way.
We can contest referee decisions all we like — it will not change the result. It is easy in times like these to instantly forget the moments when luck has gone our way this season.
Remember Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading wide from six yards out at Anfield? Swansea missing an open goal with the last kick of the game at the Liberty? At Goodison, the ball could have rebounded straight to Robles in the 94th minute and the game ends 0-0. Instead, it rolls perfectly into the path of Mane and Liverpool snatch a glorious victory at the death.
Football is a game of fine margins, and the truth is Liverpool were sloppy and lethargic against Sunderland. They might have dominated the game but they did not stamp any real degree of authority or control on it. It feels like a kick in the balls right now, but it is what it is and we move on from there.
Liverpool are still second in the table with 44 points from 20 games. It’s an excellent return and one which has been achieved with a significant absence now for Phil Coutinho — arguably Liverpool’s best player. Our best defender, Joel Matip, has also been missing.
As it happens, Chelsea have set the bar at perfection with 13 consecutive wins before their match at Tottenham Hotspur. That’s what we’re up against — the standard is absurdly high.
This should take nothing away from what has been an excellent season for the Reds so far. All Liverpool can do is cling on to their coat tails as long as possible so that when they do eventually stop winning, Liverpool are there snapping at their heels, ready to pounce.
This is not about adjusting expectations and settling for less. Had you offered me a guaranteed top-four spot back in August, I would have taken it. Expectations change, though, and Liverpool have got themselves into a title race.
Of course there will be more opportunities, and this is only the beginning of a long journey under Klopp — but there is a chance to win this league and I want to see us up there and fighting for title number 19.
Liverpool could certainly do with adding one or two bodies in January to give that title challenge an extra boost to last the distance. In the end, it may or may not happen. We’ll have to wait and see. What is imperative right now, is that Liverpool fans do not jump off that title bandwagon on the back of a frustrating draw away from home, with knackered legs.
There are 54 points still up for grabs.
The Reds will be back — they’re not giving anything up yet. Neither should we.