THE Reds are teasing us now. They’ve been toying with us all season, truth be told.
First day of this campaign — the Emirates stadium. Oh look, there are Jürgen Klopp’s all new Redmen smashing title hopefuls Arsenal in the face in their own back yard. What a season we could be in for here, kids!
Seven days on — Burnley’s place. For fuck’s sake. We’re shit. We lose. A season, just 14 days old, in smithereens.
Then those Reds got back on that wagon and produced results. The good kind. Time and time again. By late November we had ourselves a genuine title challenge.
On December 4 Liverpool travelled to Bournemouth, still very much on the trail of hot-streaking leaders Chelsea. Liverpool scored once, twice, three times. Bournemouth had managed one goal. Just 14 minutes to go and you could get odds of 33-1 against a win for the home team. I know this because I nearly placed that bet. It seemed too good an insurance policy not to take out. But I hesitated, and before you could say ‘bet responsibly’ in a cockney accent, Bournemouth had scored.
They scored twice more and we were shamefaced 4-3 losers. The whole experience felt like a real kick in the pants.
Liverpool were to recover their stride in winning four straight games over the Christmas phase but lasting psychological damage had been done on that south coast jolly.
When the Reds next skidded in early January it started a slide that threatened to take the team’s ambitions over a precipice. One in win in 10 games – and even that only at lowly Plymouth – put paid to all hopes of silverware for 2016-17.
Klopp and his team had some soul searching to do as that bleak winter gave way to spring. There was talk of team crisis meetings. There were warm weather breaks. From the outside you suspected that no stones were being left unturned. The Liverpool manager wasn’t just going to take this depressing tapering-off lying down.
The recent phase has been the manifestation of that re-alignment work. The reward has been four wins in the last six games. Not ordinary wins either. Decisive ones against top tier sides – 2-0 v Spurs, 3-1 v Arsenal, 3-1 v Everton and a very creditable 1-1 draw with Manchester City.
Liverpool now have a points base that could easily form the foundations of a run to take them into a hugely respectable second or third placed finish in this season’s Premier League.
A few weirdos (*cough* me) are even title dreaming again. Just 10 points off first-placed Chelsea, boys. Yeah, they’ve got a game in hand, but we’ve played all the biggest teams. Chelsea aren’t quite firing at the moment either. They have a big game against Man City this Wednesday night. If they lose. If we win. You do the math.
OK, we aren’t going to win the league, and you can bet that Klopp will not be entertaining much by way of title talk in the Liverpool dressing room just right now. In his head, at least.
But in his heart, he will remain drawn to the stars. He didn’t get to be Jürgen – bloody – Klopp by giving up on league championships when there were still loads of big games and big points to be played for.
As a serial winner, the manager also knows there is only one path to glory. That is by getting seriously myopic about only facing the challenge in front rather than the ones to come.
Klopp will tell his men that Bournemouth at Anfield this mid-week is the biggest game they have yet faced. Win this, lads, and you will earn the right to again face an even more important game against Stoke on Saturday. Just win the next game. That’s all you have to do, from here on in.
He may add, for extra zest, spice and pep, that Bournemouth are manifestation of the demon that the Redmen need to slay if they are to prove themselves worthy of being in contention for the big prizes. Those south coasters took the piss out of you in December, boys. You could hear them laughing through the dressing room wall. You couldn’t? I could. It was terrible. They felt they had made fools of you.
The motivations are all around if this Liverpool team wants to seek them out.
It will need to be mentally focused like never before because the likes of Bournemouth know the drill that can frustrate doubting Liverpool teams. Shorn of the injured Sadio Mane, Liverpool FC are simply not the force they can be, but they don’t need to be, to see off this category of opponent.
Whatever 11 Liverpool put out at Anfield will be stronger than any Bournemouth 11. Easily said, much tougher acted upon.
Certain portents are good, though. Phil Coutinho is back in his irresistible groove. If Liverpool are to beat Bournemouth he will surely be the architect of that victory. Mane’s under-study will be Divock Origi and he was also able to demonstrate in scoring against Everton at the weekend that his mojo may also have returned.
We’ll whisper a little prayer for Emre Can’s bruised limbs, we’ll wonder if this is the time Klopp will have chosen to unleash the chosen one – Trent Alexander-Arnold – and relish the prospect of a re-animated Lucas Leiva serving up for his attacking Brazilian pals Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Me, I’d just like to see a Gini Wijnaldum hat-trick. He did it once for the Geordies, he’ll surely oblige us at some point.
Go ‘ed, Reds. Go put a cherry on the cake of what’s been a fun a few days.
The revenge-seeking Reds: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Lucas, Wijnaldum, Alexander-Arnold; Coutinho, Firmino, Origi.
Last Match: Bournemouth 4 Liverpool 3
Referee: Lee Mason
Odds: Liverpool 2-5, Draw 5-1, Bournemouth 9-1