THERE’S a great deal to be learned from the last week of Premier League football.
Thursday evening saw a Premier League game which is unusual, and given the game was between the two sides directly below Liverpool there was a huge level of interest in it from Liverpool fans, and rightly so. Whatever the result was, there was something for us to talk about. As it was, Manchester City and Manchester United drew, both closed the gap by a point, and there was a chance (roughly 55 per cent having checked the implied probability from the betting market) that by the time we kicked off at Watford on Monday evening that Liverpool would drop out of the top four.
10pm on Thursday evening until sometime on Sunday afternoon was all doom and gloom. The world and his wife seemed to forget that Liverpool were third in April, had more points than Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal and were very much in the driving seat in terms of finishing in the top four.
The only thing down for Liverpool was us crumbling and being passed by United and Arsenal, City didn’t need to pass, the future had been visited and they were already confirmed as finishing in third. It didn’t matter that Arsenal had to go to Spurs at the weekend, or that this coming weekend they play United, or that the weekend after this one United have to go to Spurs to play the last ever game at White Hart Lane, they’d already somehow managed to bag all these points while Liverpool were going to feebly drop points left, right and centre. There was a bizarre feeling of pessimism.
Blind panic seemed to have overridden any sense of logical thinking. Spurs hadn’t lost at home all season, were playing their last North London Derby at White Hart Lane and were going for the title but some people had it in their head that an Arsenal side who haven’t won an away game at a team above 13th place this season just needed to put their kit on and they’d get three points.
Similarly, Manchester United were three points behind us with two games in hand on Thursday evening. A gap that doesn’t feel particularly insurmountable in the grand scheme of things, but football needs to be measured by more than the grand scheme of things. United have drawn 14 games in the league this season, before Sunday it was 13.
They are clearly a little flawed as a side, yet people had built them up into some footballing machine that crushes everything in front of them. This is also with them having serious injury problems that means they had to finish on Sunday with four full-backs and having a Europa League challenge which is clearly now their number one priority and best route back into the Champions League.
Manchester City, after winning their first six games and picking up 18 points in the process, have managed to pick up 47 points in the 28 games that followed. Now, it’s entirely possible that a team with as much quality as they possess suddenly click and up things a level or two, but people were talking like it was certainty. When I said that a draw was a good result for us on Thursday people told me that third was out of the question as City would just pick up too many points after that point. The basis for thinking this was at best slim, at worst non-existent without a lot of supposition.
I think the concept of a league table as a basis for forming hard opinions is interesting. Plenty of people will tell you that at the end of a season teams finish exactly where they are supposed to – I can’t agree with that. Over the course of 38 games there are simply too many variables to have any accurate gauge, all they are is a list of how many points each side picked up. Would Swansea have won at Anfield had we played them three weeks earlier when Bob Bradley was in charge, for example? Would we have won at Selhurst Park if Sam Allardyce had been in charge in October? The answer could well be yes to both but the change in circumstance faced by different teams obviously skews things. Injuries happen, managers change, teams play differently. Yet at the same time, a league table gives you a broad idea of how things are going. What a team are capable of is broadly, but not exactly, reflected in a league table after 33 games.
So why were people so downbeat about things? I’m not for one second saying that Liverpool are going to waltz to third or fourth, or whatever. I don’t think there’s a great deal in terms of difference in ability between Chelsea, Liverpool, City, United and Spurs. They’re all good teams who will challenge for the title next season if their managers do their jobs this summer and the uncontrollable things go their way.
But for some reason, there was a mindset among some that things will suddenly change. We’ll drop off, these teams will improve and we’ll come sixth.
If people aren’t capable of looking at the positives of this Liverpool side when it comes to competing in a race for top four, then what would they be like in a title race? It’s no wonder that Anfield has turned into a festering cauldron of misery if people think we’re rubbish (we’ll be third on the morning of the May 6, for the record) and everyone else, including the sides below us are brilliant.
How about a bit of positivity? You know, embracing the quality in our ranks and then being a blind football fan and thinking everyone else is crap?
After Monday night, we go into the last three games in control of our own destiny. Three convincing victories should see us get third, I reckon four points will see us get fourth given how many points you would think United and Arsenal will realistically get.
So let’s look at third, City have to host Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce. I’m pretty sure both of them would love to show their talents against Pep Guardiola to make a point about how neglected British managers are.
However, if you want to be negative and think about fourth, United have also got Allardyce, they visit Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton, have a Europa League tie against Celta Vigo starting tomorrow and their squad is that stretched I’m convinced their bench is being filled by people who have won a raffle. And then there’s Arsenal, who require snookers while also holding the handicap of being Arsenal. Stoke away and Southampton away? If they win all five I still don’t think they’ll get top four.
The odds are in our favour. I think we need possibly as little as one win from our final three. Two of these games are at Anfield so can we all get behind Liverpool as opposed to turning up, thinking we’re crap and moaning about everything and anything? It’s a huge three-week period for the future of this club. Knock all the negativity on the head and show a bit of belief.
We are where we are because we’re about as good as good as City and United, anything that the three sides do over the next two and a half weeks is unlikely to surprise you. Maybe we’ll lose in stupid circumstances on Sunday or the Sunday after or the Sunday after, but then, why wouldn’t they? Everything negative people decided this Liverpool side are capable of could quite easily be attached to them too.
Start thinking logically instead of thinking the worst about a good football team.