WHEN it comes to stealing a living, few people pull it off as well as certain football pundits. I’m not talking about the ones who make predictions about particular football matches that end up going spectacularly wrong — that can happen to the best of us. I’m talking about the ones that don’t even bother to think about facts before opening their mouths.
The thing that’s set me off about pundits this time is the BT Sport conversation regarding Liverpool having had a ‘poor year’. It was Jermaine Jenas who said it, but only Chris Sutton made any concerted effort to pick him up on it. It’s been the media narrative about us this season, that we’ve had a ‘poor’ one. This appears to be based around the manner in which our season fell apart in January and it’s certainly true that the second half of the season has been disappointing in comparison to the first. Seasons don’t last for 19 games, though. The only thing you can do is look at a season as a whole and make a judgement at the end of it.
Right now Manchester United fans will feel that they’re on course for a decent season. What happens if Ajax beat them in the Europa League final, however? If that happens then they’ll have won a League Cup and likely finished sixth. Suddenly, based on one game, they’ll have gone from having a good season to having a relatively poor one. All of this under the management of ‘world class’ José Mourinho, in charge of the most expensive squad in the history of the Premier League.
Meanwhile, at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger may well end up seeing Arsenal miss out on a top four finish for the first time since 1996. If he wins the FA Cup, is that enough to ensure that his season is seen as a successful one? The planes flying over the grounds his team have been playing at would suggest otherwise. Unlike Jürgen Klopp, the Frenchman has had years to get his team looking exactly the way he wants it to. He’s got Alexis Sanchez. He’s got Mesut Özil. He’s got a solid squad that’s built up over time and yet there isn’t as much pontificating over the success of his team this year as there is over Klopp’s.
Harry Redknapp, who spent most of the segment on BT Sport spinning around on his chair in an attempt to do a passable impression of Alberto Moreno on the substitute’s bench, doesn’t think we’ve improved much since the days of Brendan Rodgers. I wrote last week about why it’s so ridiculous to compare the record of the two managers, so I won’t go over that ground again. What I will say, though, is that when the BT Sport group had their discussion we were already eight points better off than in Rodgers’ final full season. After our win over West Ham we moved to being 11 points better off and if we beat Middlesbrough it will be 14 points. In short — yes, we’ve improved.
We’ve improved on last season, too. We’re currently 13 points better off than last year and could end the season with an improvement of 16 points. Frankly, I can’t even begin to get my head around the idea that some people who work in the football industry can even try to paint this league campaign as ‘poor’. If we qualify for the Champions League then we’ll have done something we’ve only achieved once since Rafa Benitez left the club. Even if we somehow don’t end up in the top four we’ll still have gained more points than all but one of our seasons since 2009.
Here’s a fact for you, courtesy of the always excellent Andrew Beasley: since the Premier League began, we have notched up more points than this time around on just five occasions. Beat Boro and we’ll match our 76-point total of 2007-8, while if we go on a rout and win by six or more, then we’ll actually beat that tally in terms of goal difference. There is no measure by which a serious person can say that this has been a poor season for Liverpool Football Club.
Has it been a frustrating season? Absolutely. When we beat Manchester City on New Year’s Eve we moved four points clear of them and many people felt we were in a title race. In some respects, we were. Yet here’s something not many people are going to want to hear — we weren’t really. We were still six points behind Chelsea at that point. As Mr. Beasley pointed out to me, we enjoyed our best ever first half of a season by notching up 43 points, yet over the course of the season Chelsea have doubled that tally and then some with one game still to play.
Everyone agrees that we had an awesome start to the season but we could have repeated that result-for-result in the second half of the campaign and still ended up seven points behind the title winners. If you think that ‘keeping pressure on them’ would have made them crack then you need to remember that Spurs won nine games in a row yet might still finish seven points shy of their London rivals. Sometimes you just have to accept that a team is deserving of the title and that is most certainly the case with Chelsea this year.
One of BT Sport’s arguments is that we had no European football, therefore we should have done better than we have. Personally, I think Leicester’s success last year has lulled people into thinking winning the league is easy if you don’t have European football. Prior to the Foxes win, no side had won the title without having finished in the top four the year before. Chelsea’s repeating of that success this time around is more to do with how much they’d downed tools under Mourinho last year than anything else. They’re still one of the most expensive squads in the Premier League, after all.
Since the start of March we’ve won 24 points from a possible 33. During that time we’ve played Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton as well as away games against typically tricky opposition such as West Brom and Stoke. Stretch that point-scoring out over the course of 38 games and we’d have notched up 83 points. Our win over West Ham meant we had won four away games in a row for only the third time in a decade, according to Dan Kennett. Have we had a ‘poor’ end to the season, or is that just confirmation bias from those that want to suggest that we’ve not been good enough?
Losses to Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea and Crystal Palace are extraordinarily frustrating, there’s no getting away from that. Turn all four of them into wins and we’re still five points behind Chelsea right now. Since the Premier League began, only one team has gone all season unbeaten. It is a fact that teams drop points. Even Antonio Conte’s all-conquering side that is due to finish on over 90 points has lost five times. If we’d have lost to Arsenal or Manchester United instead then fans would be less disappointed, yet our top four finish would actually be in more jeopardy.
Pundits and journalists have long let Mourinho get away with spouting whatever bullshit he wants. Even know most people in the profession are happier to question his Pravda-style mouthpiece in Duncan Castles than they are to pull the man himself up on his nonsense. He’s been the king of distraction ever since he arrived in England, but he doesn’t even need to distract people at the moment. The likes of Jenas are busy saying that Klopp’s had a poor season while the ‘Special One’ spends all this money with little reward and no one says anything because Paul Pogba’s got a hashtag.
There are aspects of this season that have been immensely frustrating. But if you have played football at any level and are getting paid to say that we’ve had a poor season then I’m afraid you’re absolutely stealing a living. Let’s get three points against Middlesbrough, get back into the Champions League and shove these miserable sods’ words back down their throat.
Up the ‘poor’ Reds.
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