THAT made me punch concrete and I might have broken my seat and my head throb and my Saturday night be mostly me chewing the inside of my mouth and maybe twitch. Anyway. Let’s at least try and have a chat.
Football matches are two sets of 11 men and while the overall aim of the game is the same — putting the round thing in the rectangular thing more often than the opponent — the methods towards that are very different. Most games Liverpool play they are the side trying to make it happen, trying to force the issue. Most games Burnley play they are trying to stop their opponents from doing what they want to do. They are very, very good at it. A side who haven’t been undressed since they came back up. They don’t just sit in and park the proverbial. They try and find areas of the pitch to battle in. They create and don’t lose a lot of one on ones. They are constantly rugged and rarely ragged.
We forget this when we watch Liverpool try and impose their will. Or we denigrate it. We presume the opposition shouldn’t be able to do that effectively or that Liverpool should be able to rise above. Or we say things like “win the battle then win the game,” as though for Burnley the battle ever stops and the game ever starts, as though the right to play is ever finally won. You can get the better of your man in your one on one but he’ll be right back seconds later.
Because Burnley are a good side. They have just done to Liverpool what they did to last season’s top two. They are good at what they do, they believe in it and they never, ever stop doing it.
But if that is the case — and it is — why then is concrete getting punched, why is my eyeball twitching, why is this killing my Saturday, my Sunday, my very brio? Why has it stolen the glide in my stride?
The answer is it shouldn’t have happened to the top two and it shouldn’t happen to us. And while the top end of the league allows you a number of shouldn’ts, whatever your ambitions, it doesn’t allow an infinite number of them. The 800m race doesn’t wait for you, not any more. It’s not a marathon and it feels a lot closer to a sprint than it ever has. This is the modern reality and we feel it.
To put it in context one of Liverpool’s greatest ever sides in 1978-9 dropped points in 12 games that season (the side that finished second dropped points in 21). Chelsea only eight games last season. Yes that Liverpool side played four games more and in an era of two points for a win, but we’ve been conscious of this reality since Roman Abramovich turned up, Arsenal went a season unbeaten and then Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea happened two years on the bounce. Since then don’t you tell me it isn’t a sprint, don’t you tell me it is a marathon. This is why my head pounds, why my teeth grit. There isn’t that much room to drop points in the games you shouldn’t drop them in.
The way this one plays out is that Liverpool concede a soft goal but then do manage to make Burnley ragged and put them under massive pressure for the 10 minutes that followed the opening goal. In that period they push Burnley about as far into the red as has been managed, more so than Liverpool managed against Burnley last season when they took all three points. It took the goal to rouse them but they find their fire doused too easily at times, at times they themselves are responsible, allowing restarts due to the potshots.
Indeed, outside of that period Liverpool spent far too much time shooting from outside the area, speculative efforts unlikely to elicit anything other than giving a young goalkeeper confidence. Liverpool resorted too early to going too often.
They played well at times, weaving through the midfield, patches of play were excellent. Burnley turned around and found their one on ones not working but instead hurting them and exposing them, however they were never punished. They got the opportunity to battle again, start again.
They even defended OK apart from 90 seconds where they didn’t when Andy Robertson covered and then Burnley scored. That said Chris Wood very much got on top of both Ragnar Klavan and especially Joel Matip in the first hour, winning his specified battle a la Burnley, offering the same way home for opponents that Stefano Okaka showed first week of the season.
A season can get away from a football team, where a football team can lose its own essence because they lose their belief in themselves and one another, because they give themselves too much to do, too much pressure, too few shouldn’ts left in their back pocket.
This thing of ours, I’ve got blood in my mouth because I have been biting my tongue all week. That shouldn’t be the case. Liverpool shouldn’t drop points to Burnley. Shouldn’t. It shouldn’t hurt this much if it happens either. It does.