It’s difficult not to look at this match as a standalone event, for all sorts of reasons. For starters, there’s the small matter of the Champions League final that’s looming large in just under a fortnight’s time. There’s also the fact that this was the last game of the season, meaning that there’s a temptation there to consider all of the games that have come before, that have led us to this point. Whenever I think about that, I’m consistently amazed at how the order of results dictate how we all feel about things. Had Liverpool played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge six months ago and lost, it would barfly have raised an eyebrow. After all, it’s a difficult place to go and they’re still the plaything of a billionaire Russian. Likewise, draws against a West Bromwich Albion side known for putting men behind the ball and a Stoke City side that plays a similar type of football would’ve been disappointing, but not the end of the world. If we’d won our last four and put ourselves in a situation when a point against Brighton would guarantee Champions League football because of that, we’d all have been delighted.
So, I’m missing the game today due to being at work. I’m literally praying that we don’t bottle that top 4 finish; We just have to avoid defeat against Brighton. I’m confident for the win however, so up the reds. Let’s secure that Champions League football, @LFC.
— 🇺🇦 (@VintageFirmino) May 13, 2018
Instead, we’ve dropped seven points in our last three league games and everyone’s feeling as though we’re stumbling into the top four. Let me make absolutely clear, I’m disappointed with the results over the last couple of weeks. A month or so ago I was writing about how I wanted us to finish second, given that we’ve only managed that three times during the Premier League era and the wheels have fallen off in the following season. However, had someone told me that the sacrifice for reaching a Champions League final would be two home draws and a loss against one of the richest clubs in world football, there’s no question that I’d have snapped your hand off for it. As I’ve said several times recently, football doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Both the order of our results and the pot of European gold at the end of the rainbow change how we see Liverpool’s season, which is mad in many ways. Regardless, the simple fact is that we know before the whistle was blown to get this game underway that a point against Chris Hughton’s side would be enough to send us off to Kiev absolutely bouncing. How did it work out?
’Typical Liverpool’ No Longer Means What Some People Think
When people talk about ‘modern football’ they’re generally referencing things like the money involved in the game, the amount of time that players spend diving and the ways in which clubs financially exploit supporters in any way that they can think of. What they don’t mention is something that I think is significantly more annoying than all of those things: supporters who would rather be ‘right’ than see their club do well. There are scores of them about, not just at Liverpool but across the football supporting world. Heading into yesterday’s match, there were loads of people who declared that it would be ‘typical Liverpool’ to mess up their Champions League qualification chances against a newly promoted side at home because that’s the sort of thing we ‘always do’.
This has been Liverpool’s best season against the bottom half of the division in the PL era. pic.twitter.com/v6ItfnMux0
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) May 13, 2018
Yet that isn’t what this incarnation of a Liverpool team does and it hasn’t been all season. As always at times like this, Andrew Beasley’s timeline on Twitter is well worth a read through for any number of stats that prove the point. For example, Liverpool’s goal difference in the Premier League ended up being +46. Against the top ten it was 0, against the bottom ten it was +46. The only team outside of the rest of the top six to beat us was Swansea. We’ve never had a better season against the bottom half since the Premier League format was introduced in 1992. Some people feared that we’d see ‘typical Liverpool’ come out yesterday and I would argue that they were right. The only thing is, that doesn’t mean what they think it means. It’s no longer a phrase that refers to a side that likes to make life difficult for itself or falters at the last. Now it’s a team that puts lesser teams to the sword more often than not and, for two years running, has done exactly what was needed to get the job done.
A Match In Which The Doubters Were Silenced
It’s not just the ‘typical Liverpool’ shouts that get my goat, either. One of the biggest problems that I have with vast swathes of the team’s fanbase is that so many people completely under-estimate a number of our players. One of the cases in point is the defence. I’m under no illusion that Virgil van Dijk has made a massive difference to the way we see things when other teams attack us nowadays. In the past we’d all have kittens if we conceded a corner, for example, whereas now we shrug our shoulders and wonder if we’ll be able to score on the counter. However, the way some people have reacted to his signing you would be forgiven for thinking that the other defenders couldn’t even tie their laces until he showed them how to do it. Liverpool had the best defence in the league over a twenty-nine game stretch, of which van Dijk played in just fourteen games. He’s world-class, but our other defenders are very, very good.
✅Salah gets new PL record
✅Solanke gets first goal for LFC
✅Robertson gets first goal for LFC
✅Reds qualify for Champions League pic.twitter.com/we8TpHhGaQ
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) May 13, 2018
That’s why I was so pleased to see Dejan Lovren get on the scoresheet and be part of yet another defensive clean sheet. The Croatian has been on the end of some truly horrific abuse from some of the people who claim to be supporting him this season, with many declaring him to be amongst the ‘worst defenders in the league’. There’s literally no way that can be true and him rack up seventeen clean sheets, nine of which were before van Dijk even arrived at the club. Lovren’s goal wasn’t the one that I was most pleased about, however. He’s a defender, so ultimately that’s not his job. It is the job of Dominic Solanke to score, though, and it’s a monkey that he’s vey much needed to get off his back. He managed to do it in some style, smashing the ball home out of nowhere and having an all-round performance that makes a lie of the declaration from some that he’s ‘not a Premier League quality striker’. His underlying numbers suggest that he’s a quality player who simply hadn’t scored. He has now, putting another one on the eye of the naysayers.
There have, of course, been far too many draws at home this season. The likes of West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Everton have left with more than they’ve deserved for their performances, but a combination of refereeing performances and poor finishing by us has allowed that to happen. Nevertheless, we finish this league campaign as the only team in the English Football League who have not lost a league match at home. That’s a really impressive achievement, proving that Jürgen Klopp has been able to marshal his side well enough to ensure that teams will arrive on Merseyside next year knowing that it will take an impressive performance to leave with all three points. He’s harnessed the energy from a set of supporters desperate to believe in the ability of the team that they follow to do what needs to be done and it showed in Brighton’s performance yesterday. Yes, they were on the beach and it was the last day of the season, but even if neither of those things were true I’m not sure that they had it in them to get anything of the game.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 13, 2018
Anfield can be something of a toxic location at times, especially if things aren’t going the way that supporters want them to. Against Stoke City things became very edgy very early on, with some in the ground feeling as though we weren’t doing enough on the pitch to merit the three points. That simply wasn’t the case against Brighton, with the crowd being right behind the players from the get-go and the lads on the pitch responding accordingly. It’s given me faith in the ability of the supporters to get behind the team in a big way if the Reds manage to get themselves involved in a title race next season. No more edginess, no more worrying, just unabated optimism that can lead to a performance in which the team smashes the opposition like we did to the Seasiders.
Go And Win The European Cup
We needed to get the job done against Brighton in order to secure our position in the Champions League next season. No one approached the game thinking about the final of that same competition that we’ll be playing in in less than a fortnight. Now that the formalities are out of the way, however, and the players have secured passage into Europe’s premier competition for the second season in a row for only the first time since 2009, we can all turn our thoughts to Kiev without shame or recrimination. For me, this has already been a wildly successful season for Liverpool Football Club. Whatever we may think of what’s happened to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal over the past couple of years, they’re still a very good team. Likewise, Chelsea gave us a run for our money for that fourth placed finish at the closing stages of the campaign. To finish in the top four wasn’t easy, nor was it a certainty. To combine doing that with reaching the European Cup final is an achievement that deserves to be celebrated.
Nice professional job from The Reds. After early misses and another referee deciding that he looks better if he doesn’t give penalties to Liverpool, it looked like a potential one of those days. Not on our watch. Now on to Kiev!
— David Segar (@whichdave) May 13, 2018
Yet there can be no doubt that we’re in a position to turn this from a good season into an exceptional one. It won’t be easy. Real Madrid have won the competition for two years running for a very good reason – they’re an exceptionally talented side. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have weaknesses, of course, and every side can struggle for rhythm at times, so there’s no reason to think that if we have a good day and catch them on a bad day that we won’t be able to lift up number six. Many things can go wrong, though, and the match against Brighton showed just how much an appalling referee can influence things in a negative manner in a game. We’ll need many things to go our way, but if they do then this could yet be one of our best seasons in the modern era. With Allez. Allez. Allez ringing in their ears, the lads are off to Kiev to see what they can do. Bon chance!