A Draw Is Fine – Now Beat Them In The FA Cup

There are some weekends when absolutely nothing goes the way you want it to. I have spent my entire adult life wanting Manchester United to win absolutely nothing, yet having to put up with them winning practically everything. I sat down on Saturday as a United supporter for one of the few times ever, suddenly realising just how awful this iteration of the Red Devils actually is. As with everyone else, I’ve known that they’re garbage for years, but seeing actually play out when you want them to get three points is a painful experience. It reminded me how lucky I am that I get to watch this Liverpool side week-in, week-out, instead of the absolute dross being produced at Old Trafford. Never mind, I thought, as long as Burnley beat Norwich then Everton are still only a point outside the relegation zone and they haven’t got many winnable games left. Cue Sean Dyche’s men being absolutely dreadful at Carrow Road and losing to an abysmal Norwich side.

So it was that I sat down to watch Liverpool play Manchester City, convinced that my desires for the weekend were there to be uniformly thwarted by the footballing gods. The opening forty-five minutes did little to assuage my fears, with the Reds starting in inexplicably poor fashion. I’ve seen many people since say that Pep Guardiola’s men played brilliantly in that first-half, but I’m not convinced that they did. Or, to be more specific, I’m not sure that they needed to. Liverpool were all over the show, with none of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold or Fabinho playing very well at all. When you’re going up against a financially doped football club that is supported with the wealth of a nation that has chosen to use football to sports-wash its reputation on a global scale, you can’t afford for any of your players to not be at the races. For the opening period, virtually all of ours were slow out of the blocks. What does that mean for what’s to come?

A Better Second-Half Can Be A Blueprint

There’s no question that Liverpool needed to improve in the second-half. The good news is that we did, with Sadio Mané, who had been largely ineffective in the first forty-five, proving why it is that Jürgen Klopp still trusts him in the big games. The ball from Mo Salah, who was otherwise pretty anonymous, was superb, laying it on a plate for his teammate to smash home with gusto. We had other chances to score in the second-half, too, being much better than we were in the first. Though City will also feel as though they had chances, they were mostly limited to keeping hold of the ball without doing a huge amount with it. From Liverpool’s point of view, the fact that Pep Guardiola’s men failed to take advantage of their dominance will be something that will give the lads heart. Despite us not getting out of first gear for most of the opening period, they didn’t go three, four or five goals ahead like they probably should have done. That can only be seen as a good thing.

There is no question that Man City will feel as though that was an opportunity missed. To continue the boxing analogy offered by Jürgen Klopp post match, they failed to land a knockout blow on our title hopes and now all of the pressure is on them. We have some massive games left, including what I think is likely to be season-definer: the home match against Tottenham Hotspur. Antonio Conte has got the London club firing recently, with the form of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and new arrival Dejan Kulusevski enough to ensure that they’ll cause us problems at Anfield. The big question is whether we are able to produce a performance like the one we gave in the second-half at the Etihad across ninety minutes. For quite a time now, we’ve been playing in second gear in order to ensure that we’ve still got enough gas left in the tank for the closing stages of the season. The problem is, if we don’t learn to start cruising in fifth then the season will be over earlier than we want.

The FA Cup Will Be There To Be Won If We Can Beat City

There is no doubt in my mind that we can knock City out of the FA Cup if we play for the ninety minutes like we did in the second-half yesterday. There are numerous different external factors that need to be taken into account, including the fact that we will be able to make several changes for our game against Benfica whilst Man City will almost certainly have to go full-strength against Atletico Madrid. That means playing Kevin de Bruyne, for example, and you have to wonder whether the Belgian has got it in him to play three intense matches in the space of a week. Of course, the benefit of being supported by a sports-washing sovereign nation is that you can have £100 million worth of talent on the bench at the start of your biggest match of the season, so maybe Guardiola will choose to play Jack Grealish in Spain, to say nothing of the other hugely priced talent that he’s got available to him. Even so, I think our squad is stronger than theirs and it will tell next weekend.

There is no doubting Man City’s quality. If we don’t pip them to the title this season then they’ll have won four of the last five. If we weren’t as good as we are, they’d have won all five without any meaningful opposition. Given the reluctance of the footballing authorities to do anything whatsoever about their cheating, that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. It comes down to us to stop them from steamrolling everyone and I’m rather afraid that this might be our last chance to do it. The rumours are there that City will be buying Erling Haaland in the summer, meaning that they are unlikely to spurn chances in the way that they did yesterday moving forwards. It therefore becomes imperative that we defeat them in the FA Cup semi-final and, if we do, we’ll then face either a beatable Crystal Palace or a Chelsea side that is going through all sorts of problems this season and that we’ve already beaten in a cup final. It’s more than doable, but we need to play well for ninety minutes first.

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