With Liverpool back in the jaws of a Premier League title race, the “what if” moments are already coming around thick and fast…
THERE’S always a ‘what if’ moment.
The other night I was standing in my kitchen, blithely ignoring whatever task I was supposed to be doing, when the radio told me that Everton had scored.
Such occasions are rarely celebrated. A slight wrinkle of the nose will ordinarily follow, but this was different. It’s similar to Manchester United’s late winner against Aston Villa.
I couldn’t celebrate it as such and though I like Villa’s manager (half vampire/half ‘the lad from the Flying Pickets’ – ask your dad) I don’t see them as a credible threat, but it was suddenly alright for Utd to win. Obviously, minutes after I had that thought I more or less attacked myself with a bottle of Dettol and a wire brush in order to cleanse myself.
I mean, I expected Manchester City to win anyway, but that ‘what if’ had my mind flying. A defeat there and they wouldn’t be out of it as such, but there’d be a significant points gap. It’d be in our hands. Massively in our hands.
Then came real life. Ah well. Prose not poetry.
But then Arsenal lost to West Ham. I’ve seen both of those sides this season and would have thought it’d be over before half time, but there it is. 0-3. David Moyes doing his beloved Reds a wonderful favour.
Top of the league, then. Two points clear at that. And all that with The Reds not being especially great. With Robbo and Macca ready to come back. And with Jota already notching on his return.
(I’d have Jota, by the way. I get the Nunez issue and I’m still not sure what Gakpo’s best position is – I’m not sure that such a position exists – but I’d start Jota every day, every damn day. In fact I’d put him on the pitch a full 24 hours before kick off just so he doesn’t get lost or anything.)
And we’ve been to Chelsea, Spurs, Newcastle and City already. The bottom three still have to come to Anfield.
There are still some concerns – AFCON, more injuries, VAR, City – but this is still a season that began in transition with a whole new midfield and is now two points clear at the top of the league.
Of course there are other ‘what ifs’. What if the ref decides that the penalty area isn’t really the place to play basketball and gives us a penalty, or if there’d been a fit for purpose officiating team at Tottenham rather than one led by Tiresias (ask your Classics teacher)…
Yeah, I know. Liverpool get all the big decisions.
But what has happened is a genuine title race. I still think it will end with us and City, but I thought Arsenal were great at Anfield and the Villa/West Ham element has been refreshing. They’re this season’s Brighton. Unlike Brighton, strangely.
There was a time when you wouldn’t have a clue who’d win the league if it wasn’t us. Even the runners-up spot went to someone unexpected. From 1979-1984 it was Forest, Ipswich (twice), Watford and Southampton. It would be a shock if us or City aren’t the top two this season, but it’s been nice having new faces in the top four. As long as we’re in there.
But this thing never ends. Christmas is done, but we’re now staring down the barrel of Newcastle, two League Cup semis, a couple of Arsenals and Chelsea over the coming weeks.
God knows what Newcastle will come up with. They’ve been close the last couple of times we’ve played them, but will always have a defeat in them. Beat them, maybe with Fulham getting a point against Arsenal and…
Here I go again. What if?
I reckon City have already beaten Sheff U though. I wouldn’t expect much hope there.
Top of the league, though. I still think we’ve playing at 80 per cent and yet we’re top of a very competitive league. Absolutely tremendous.
Mind you, last January we won one game in six so…
Nah, forget that. Top of the league and some lads to come back. Let’s concentrate on that.
One game at a time, sweet Jesus.
Happy New Year.