A Season-Defining Month Ahead?

It is easy to get caught up in the trap of tribalism. If I said I’d never fallen foul of it then it would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told and I pretend to be someone else for a living. We all think our players are all the best and the opposition is filled with cheats and scoundrels. Yet the the reality is that such blind loyalty to our team’s players means that we can sometimes end up muddying the waters when it comes to conversations about refereeing. There are a couple of videos doing the rounds on social media talking about Mo Salah and the penalty that he was awarded. West Ham fans are outside of Anfield discussing the fact that he ‘throws himself to the floor’ and that the penalty he was given is ‘never a penalty.’ Giving these supporters a slight bit of benefit of the doubt, they are conversations being had in the immediate aftermath of the full-time whilst and without the benefit of seeing a replay, so perhaps they didn’t see what actually happened in real time.

Yet their response is not dissimilar to the sort of thing we’ve seen week-in, week-out from all sets of supporters. Many Liverpool fans claimed that Virgil van Dijk should not have been sent off in our match against Saudi Arabia FC, in spite of the fact that it was about as textbook an example of denying a goalscoring opportunity that you’re going to see. Such tribal reactions to refereeing decisions, which look stupid to the outside world, mean that actual issues with poor refereeing get to be lumped in with such conspiracy theory nonsense. The foul on Mo Salah is about as blatant a penalty as you’re ever going to see, but the desperate need to make controversy out of the non-controversial in the chase for clicks and interactions means that the water has been well and truly muddled for most of those that watch football. How often do analysts declare that something isn’t a free-kick or a penalty ‘for me’? We all need to be a little bit more honest if we want to highlight actual poor refereeing.

Two Big Away Games In The League

I am very much of the belief that we can challenge 115 Charges FC for the title this season. Pep Guardiola’s men haven’t really faced any sort of genuine opposition, especially if you agree with me that Eddie Howe has been promoted well above his station. They also have a much weaker squad than a lot of people realise, even if their first XI is exceptional. Whilst a title challenge might well come too soon for Jürgen Klopp, there is no reason why Liverpool 2.0 can’t be involved in the conversation come the end of the campaign. If that is to be the case, it is clear that we’re going to need to at our very best in our next two away games. The first comes against Ange Postecoglou’s resurgent Tottenham Hotspur, who seem to have escaped from the shadow of Harry Kane in order to look like a genuinely tricky opponent. Postecoglou, for what it’s worth, strikes me as the sort of person that has the ‘run through brick walls for them’ personality that could replace Jürgen Klopp at Anfield.

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is an impressive ground and they are clearly playing brilliant football under the Greek-Australian, so taking anything for granted when heading to North London would be a big mistake. It is, arguably, the first real test of this Liverpool team. Coming hot on the heels of that in the Premier League is a trip to the Amex, where Brighton & Hove Albion await. Just as Postecoglou is doing a brilliant job at Spurs, so too is Roberto De Zerbi making waves with the Seagulls. They have been a thorn in Klopp’s side the last few times we’ve played them and we will need to be at our very best to get all six points from these two games. If we come away with four then I’ll still believe that we can challenge, but defeat in either, or both, would be bad news for any possible title tilt. Guardiola’s side shows no immediate sign of slowing down, so if we want to be involved in the conversation then we need to make sure that emerge from these two tricky away games looking in fine fettle.

The Cups Will Start To Take Shape

As well as the two trick Premier League games, the other thing that we have to worry about before the international break are two cup competitions. The League Cup is first, with Leicester City our opponents at Anfield. Speaking about the state of the three promoted clubs, my Leicester supporting friend said to me, “It’s such a different class of standard. Watching Leicester this year, in the Premier league we would have lost nearly every game because its ruthless, we’ve benefitted from other teams not taking their opportunities, in the Premier League they get taken.” It is fair to say that the Foxes will be turning up with the aim of showing that they can still mix it with the big boys in the top-flight, so I’m expecting a side full of fight and desire. We can’t be too complacent if we want to progress in the League Cup, which I do because I believe that this squad is more than capable of competing on several fronts. We will need to be focused, but I think we should progress.

Then comes a game against R. Union SG in the Europa League. The Belgian side are currently fourth in the Pro League, sitting four points off the top after having lost two of their opening seven matches. Having gained three points against LASK, the manager will be hoping for another win as we look to cement our place in the next round of the competition by finishing top of the group. It will also give the ‘B’ team a chance to carrying on playing together and getting to know one another and I personally would be tempted to play effectively the same team, with one or two changes, throughout these lesser tournaments. We should have a cup team and another team for the Premier League, which is how we’ll be best-placed to take on all four competitions that we’re in this season without fatigue getting the better of the players. It will also keep the ‘B’ team in good shape for when any of them need to come in to the first team due to injury, illness or suspension. These four games will outline just what this season will look like for the Reds.

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