THE bar has moved.
Once upon a time, supporters of Liverpool Football Club would worry when we dropped points because they imagined that every point was more important than it actually was.
In reality, we could have won a title in 2015-16 with 82 points, allowing 32 to be dropped across a season.
We won our last title in 1989/1990 with 79 points (35 dropped).
The most points Liverpool has ever accumulated in a season is 90 over 40 games in 1987-88 (equivalent to 86 points over 38 games) and 68 when it was only two points for a win in a 42 game season (1978-79). We won 30 games that season, which would have equated to 98 points if it was three points for a win, but which would average out to 89 points in an equivalent 38-game season.
We dropped large numbers of points in each of those seasons and it didn’t really matter. The bar was set at a level high enough to prevent our rivals keeping up but low enough to allow the reality to be that dropping points was never actually the end of the world, despite how it might have felt immediately after a draw or defeat to a team we wouldn’t expect to concede anything to.
But the bar has moved.
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have raised it to a level at which you might get altitude sickness if you dare to climb so high.
Two games into a Premier League season and six teams have 100 per cent records, including four of last season’s top six, all having taken their own particular risks to start the season as strongly as possible.
Players barely back from the World Cup for five minutes have been thrown straight back into the firing line because their managers just can’t afford to drop points.
Guadiola and Manchester City have changed everything, not just in reality with 100 points on the board at the end of a season, but in the minds of all of us, their opponents.
The fans, players and management of every other club have changed how they think about the game. Two wins out of two at the start of the season now just keeps us level, whereas before it was something to celebrate.
Winning away at Crystal Palace by two goals means that we’re already falling behind in the goal difference charts, and even that tiny doubt can lodge in our minds and make us worry about how we can compete.
Our old rivals at the end of the M62 already feeling like they might be in full meltdown before the autumn leaves start to fall.
By the time we play City on October 7 there’s a realistic possibility that they could have won every single game, partly because of a malfunction in the random fixture generator that has somehow led to them playing West Ham at home four times between now and then, when by the same point we’ll have already played away at Spurs and Chelsea.
So, the question becomes what can we possibly do to compete with this new-age juggernaut?
The answer, as with most things in life, is simple but not easy.
We simply need to make sure that when people’s minds drift when whiling away the hours at work to how good this City team is and how much it’s capable of, that the very next thought in their head is a red tidal wave. Of an angry Jürgen Klopp celebrating a goal as though his life depended on it. Of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane churning furrows in the pitch as they break faster than speeding bullets from an opponent’s corner.
This is a battle in the conscious and sub-conscious minds of each of our rivals as much as it’s a battle on a football pitch each week.
Manchester United’s lads have already slipped. Some of their fans will be concerned that the league is already over for them, having fallen behind so early. Spurs and Chelsea have started as well as they could have hoped and they’ll be doing what we’re all doing, seeking out the results of every other rival each week hoping to see dropped points.
The key is to wear them down psychologically. To allow their managers to worry about the machine we’ve become and to wonder how they can possibly overcome both us and City. To keep grinding out wins, with a flourish of goals whenever possible but with penalties and last-minute breakaway goals if necessary.
Our motivational leader compared us recently to Rocky Balboa, and the comparison is fitting. If you haven’t seen Rocky IV I’m not sure what you’ve been doing with your life, but it’s definitely not as rich as it could have been if you’d had Sylvester Stallone’s boxing icon with you through the years. Do yourself a favour and buy the box set. Watch them all over a weekend and be ready to take on the world by the time you go to bed on Sunday.
Without ruining it for those who haven’t seen it yet, Rocky IV sees Ivan Drago, the seemingly perfect and invincible Russian boxer, head into a fight against an opponent on the assumption he was going to swat an annoyance away with ease. Several short rounds later and the 1980s embodiment of the Russian state (it is a Hollywood movie after all) mutters the immortal line “He’s not a human. He’s like a piece of iron” about his seemingly indestructible foe.
And that one line, that one scene, sums up the simple nature of our task: to stay in the fight.
To scrap with everything we’ve got. To hang in and keep hanging in, churning out points and grinding down opponents week after week and accumulating points like never before.
Then to see what happens.
I said last week that we can’t control what City or anyone else does, which I truly believe. But what we can do is put them under the type of pressure they haven’t felt before. The thing about being the team that managed to put together 100 points in one season is that it brings its own pressure. To start like City started last time out and look down after 10 games knowing that you’ve already blown your opponents away is one thing, but to start like a steam train and keep looking back to see one of the little bastards going step for step with you is an entirely different scenario altogether.
Imagine being that runner, used to blowing the rest of the field away with an early burst of pace and being able to take it easy in the home straight. Only now you can’t. When the fatigue starts to kick in and you worry that the competitor on your coat tails still has energy in her legs, a whole new set of psychological problems begins to present itself. Your limbs feel more tired than they did before. All of a sudden those chances seem more difficult to convert and frustrations with misplaced passes starts to increase.
That’s our job this season. To use City’s expensively-assembled super squad as a pace setter and match it for as long as possible, always knowing that they will be worried that when we go head to head in our own epic battles there will be a 12-point swing in our favour. They didn’t like playing us last season and that was before we played with a goalie with real hands and the greatest midfielder of all time.
So, five more games between now and the first City game – 15 points to target. Win every fucking one and let’s see how the Cityzens react. Or drop a few points and don’t let it rock us from our path. Stay in their slipstream, let them feel our presence right next to or just behind them.
It’s abundantly clear that we’re already under Jose Mourinho’s skin, he made it clear in the summer that he considered us a major rival by making repeated references to us and trying to build pressure at every given opportunity. Little did he realise that was music to our ears. It’s so long since we’ve been relevant I think we all celebrated a little bit inside when he started trying to pile the pressure on, giving us a little smile when the master of buying titles criticised our transfer spending.
And if we can get to The Miserable One, we can get to Guardiola. We’re already getting a little glimpse from their own fly-on-the-wall documentary about how he feared our attack last season, and now there’s more for him to be fearful of.
Pep Guardiola saying he is scared of Liverpool's front 3 in the latest Manchester City documentary. pic.twitter.com/I8QFpsyypQ
— Anfield Express (@AnfieldExpress) August 17, 2018
We just need to stay with them and make them feel our presence for as long as possible.
In the words of our new arch enemy, Ivan Drago: Until the end.