November 03, 2019

Horse 2617 - When To Write On Liverpool's Season (Keep Hope Alive)

Last night I was met on Twitter with not one, not two but three questions.
The third question I can very easily answer by fulfilling the request. Quod erat demonstrandum.
The second question is predicated on the first; so I will answer that next.

Very long time readers will note that I write Liverpool's season off as a non-event, after they have fallen 10 points behind the league leaders. In my lifetime, the earliest that I have had to do that was as early as September, and the latest which I theorectically could have written a post about this (had the internet been around then) was in a postponed fixture; which I think is the greatest match in the history of football ever, despite the fact that Liverpool lost both the match and the league in the 91st minute of the very last game of the year¹.

Currently, the league table reads:
31 - Liverpool
25 - Manchester City
23 - Chelsea
20 - Leicester City

As Leicester City are 11 points behind the league leaders, Liverpool, I would write off Leicester City's season now.
Also, Watford who are on 5 points, can still hold quite a lot of hope as 10 points above them is tenth in the ladder and well safe of relegation. Bolton Wanderers in League One who started on -12 points (no that is not a typo, that is minus 12 because they went into administration), have about as much chance of avoiding relegation as an unsuspecting watermelon has of getting out of the way of the 534 bus to Bury.

As for that second question, it is complex.
Liverpool last won the league in 1990. In those heady days, Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister, Madonna was Voguing it up at the top of the pops, and the Ford Sierra RS500 was thumping all and sundry in the BTCC. BSkyB wasn't yet a thing and neither was the Premier League.

That means that I have seen 28 seasons of false dawns, never wases and a few seasons of being tantalisingly² close. Last season, Liverpool again came close after losing only one match in the season and finishing one point behind Manchester City, who was the only team that they lost to. Even though 97 points was the 3rd highest total in the current format of the Premier League and would have won the league in every year except it and the season before, almost being undefeated was still not good enough.

What do I think about this season, which is the second question posed? In principle, I think that just like it is impossible to guarantee that a player has been signed in spite and despite of the photo shoots where they are holding up a shirt, it isn't confirmed until they are on the park. While I will not write off the season for a while, the earliest that I could still theoretically write if off is if Liverpool were to suffer an implosion and lose six games on the trot while Man City won six.

That aside, what do I objectively think about the season? As always, the glass is half-empty. Please refill it.

I can not believe that I am saying this but in the league, Liverpool have actually gone 10 months unbeaten. While that should give me cause to be happy, the threat of watching it all implode again is all too real.

The match against Aston Villa in which Villa went ahead in the 20th minute and held their nerve for more than an hour should give me cause for concern but surprisingly it doesn't. How Andy Robertson could end up on the score sheet is a question which God in his wisdom thought "Meh, why not. I've already given you ant tornados, a planet that smells like rotten eggs, Trump, Brexit, and Boris Johnson; so it's not like the universe can get any weirder." The fact that Sadio Mane then also headed the winner 4 minutes into extra-time from the boot of Alexander-Arnold, shows that Liverpool are prepared to fight.
The week before which threw up a dour 1-1 draw against Manchester United, shows that this Liverpool side is also prepared to work, just at standing still.
The 5-5 draw against Arsenal in the League Cup shows that God is definitely playing with the universe on weird mode. In that match, Divock Origi danced and spun and fired an arrow from the edge of the area to get the fourth equaliser and his second goal was a scissor-kick in front of The Kop to bring the score to 5-5. Already that's the stuff of legend because it certainly isn't normally credible.

I am hopeful but have been bitten on too many occasions to be imperious. Manchester City won the title last year by being that little bit better all the time. This year though, they have been worked out, twice.
Liverpool fell short last season but not for lack of trying. Under Jurgen Klopp, there is a real sense that every minute is valuable and last season, the hopes were kept alive; with wins being pulled in extra time against both Spurs and Palace to keep hope alive.

I am going to say this, I do not think that Liverpool actually has the best players. Granted that Mo Salah is something special but the 10 players behind him are not necessarily in that class.
Firmino, Mané, Henderson, Milner, Lallana, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Keita etc. would all feature in first team positions at any club in the Premier League but I still do not think that any of them individually is enough to hold a team together. The current Liverpool squad is greater than the sum of its parts however, I still do not know if that sum is greater than the sum of the individuals at Manchester City. Manchester City is a team built from the chequebook; which resulted in the Domestic Treble last year. In contrast, Liverpool is a team which has been built by Jürgen Klopp.
On that note, Jürgen Klopp has done something which I had been crying out for for a very long time; which is patience. Management in the past has always demanded the finest players available to humanity here and now and then watched as they failed to shine. Klopp is waiting. I like Klopp choosing to play 4-3-3 or 4-2-4, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, or even 4-1-5 if the situation demands. I am convinced that he knows that he does not have the 11 best players in the league; so he has to make sure that the 11 players that he does have believe that together they are 1 unit.
Klopp has taken the club from 8th, to 4th, to 2nd and now all that is left is 1st.

As for making that call, 11 games into the season is still way too early. You need at least 19 before you've had a look at everyone versus everyone else and that won't happen until Boxing Day/Boxing Anti-Eve. At that point last season, Liverpool were 7 points clear of Manchester City and 6 ahead of Spurs, and still lost.
Liverpool v Manchester City will be a very good test to see which one might have the nerve to win the title. As a six point fixture³ this could be one of those matches that the title chase hinges on. It was important last year because had the result gone the other way, Liverpool would have been the 2018/19 Champions and not a 28th season loser. We can but hope though.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers⁴ -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
Though dreams be tossed and blown -
Walk on, With hope, In your heart
And you'll never walk alone.
- Emily Dickson, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II

¹ - Liverpool 0–2 Arsenal (26 May 1989)
²I am sure that the word 'tantalising' relates to Tantalus in Greek mythology, who after having the audacity to serve his own son at a feast with the gods, he was punished by Zeus to go thirsty and hungry forever in Hades; with a pool of water and a fruit tree being eponymously out of reach.
³While it's not actually worth 6 points, facing a direct rival is that valuable because it is not just the three points your team gets but also the three points the opposition doesn't get. A victory is in effect 6 points net than a defeat.
⁴This is such a delicious aside, it demands another sub post. -

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