WE’RE nearly there. Can you feel it? The weather getting colder, the clocks have gone back. Not Christmas, but madness. Fixture madness. It comes ever closer.
Within 37 days ending on January 1st, every Premier League team is playing 10 league games. That’s insane.
— James Yorke (@jair1970) 29 October 2017
For Liverpool it is madder than the above tweet. That time frame doesn’t include the home game against Southampton and the away game against Sevilla.
To understand the scope of this, all the league games we will have had since August, after we face West Ham United at the weekend, number 11 games. We are going to have 11 games from November 18 to January 1/2. What will have taken three months and one week by 2.59pm on the November 18 will then be compressed into one month and two weeks. Our longest gap between games in that period is Sunday December 17 to Friday December 22. A deep breath before it accelerates. Four games from then to January 1/2.
Premier League players need to get their Christmas shopping done soon. So, frankly, do we.
Because look — we also have two Champions League games in that run. A fair few of our rivals have those two games and a Carabao Cup quarter final (that comes between Sunday December 17 and Friday 22 — yep).
This run of games has looked the defining stretch for the whole campaign. On January 2 there will be 22 games on the board and the league will very much be sorted out.
What has so far been a theoretical idea full of numbers and dates is about to become an exhausting reality for every side in the country.
Imagine being Jürgen Klopp. Don’t just read that sentence. See it as a task to perform. If need be, close your eyes.
Imagine being a man whose entire football culture has always closed down for six weeks for winter. Not kept going. Not sped up way beyond the ordinary. Imagine being Klopp — when two seasons on the bounce you have had all this plus a two-legged league cup semi final on the horizon. Imagine being Klopp, watching your players fall like horses running the Grand National at this time of year. Imagine being Klopp, looking at that fixture list in June and talking to your coaches, your medical team, your experts. You had never known the likes two years ago. You tried to plan for it last season. It didn’t work. And now it is even more intense.
Imagine being Klopp.
We spend too much time prescribing onto managers what we would do right now, insisting our gratification be instant in every sense. We don’t spend enough time just simply trying to have the empathy to imagine being them and having all their concerns, highs, lows and what have yous. Managing any football team at any level is a tough job. Managing something you are simply not used to makes it harder. Doing all that while being Liverpool manager is even tougher still.
Last week I wrote that the manager hasn’t had that good a domestic campaign thus far in my eyes. Well, ever so slightly, is it any wonder? He has been girding, possibly doing too much girding, his and Liverpool’s loins for what follows from November 18. That run of games is where seasons live and die across this whole division. There isn’t a manager in this league who wouldn’t take nine wins from 11 if you offered it now. Expect the football to be patchy and attritional. But expect it to be brutal and vital; life affirming if it goes well and heart breaking if it goes wrong. The games come so thick and fast there is barely time to catch your breath.
It’s a season within a season, it’s own specific challenge.
After the win against Huddersfield Town we find ourselves sixth in a six-horse race. But in touch. We have the greatest amount of ground to make up but we have the fixtures to go about that business best. We just have them all so very quickly.
This should be exciting. This should be an opportunity. What we have is the strength in depth. For all the sob stories around Liverpool’s transfer summer told by ourselves, by the media, perhaps even internally, Liverpool were able to bring two young internationals off the bench as their first two subs against Huddersfield while missing three of their best six players for the front five positions; all of whom are expected to be back by the end of November. We have strength in depth everywhere but centre back and, while we can and should expect injuries, so should our rivals, none of whom had a perfect transfer window either.
In short, we shouldn’t be scared, shouldn’t apologise for ourselves or think we aren’t up to this.
We are as up to it as any other side in the country. And we seem — seem — to have been being prepared for it.
What all this does is make clear how important the game at West Ham is. While last week against Huddersfield was about steadying the ship, the West Ham game is about staying in touch. Next weekend sees Manchester City host Arsenal and Manchester United go to Chelsea. A win for Liverpool against West Ham either keeps us three points off fourth and fifth but closer to the summit or we could be closer to or level with fourth and fifth.
We could be on the march. Which is good. It’s a winter to march into, a winter to face head on. Grit your teeth, Reds. Let’s go.