Does Liverpool’s Loss To City Really Change Anything?

The general feeling around the match against Manchester City was that it was massive, with some referring to it as Liverpool’s biggest game in a decade. A quick look around Twitter will have shown you countless people describing their nerves over the issue, arguing that it was somehow season-defining. Personally, I was far more sanguine about the matter. The reality is that it was only going to be a massive game if we’d won it, given that a 10 point margin is about as clear as you can hope to get in the modern day Premier League. That’s not to say that it would have been classed as unassailable, of course, considering the quality of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side. Yet 10 points for a team that wouldn’t have lost a game at that point, if we’d won it, would surely have been considered as close to the league title heading to Anfield as we could hope for.

The reality is that even a win wouldn’t have meant that we could take our foot off the gas between now and the end of the season. A 10 point lead gives you a margin for error, but it’s only three losses and a draw away from being eviscerated overnight. As quickly as the gap opened up it could’ve been closed again, as Jürgen Klopp knows all too well. A draw would’ve been nice, given that it would have kept things as they were and 7 points is nearly as healthy a lead as 10, all things considered. Yet a loss is far from being the unmitigated disaster that some weird supporters have claimed it as. Many people believed at the start of December that if we could maintain our 1 point deficit heading into the game at the Etihad then it would mean we were in a healthy position, so being 4 points clear after the game should be seen as thrilling. All of which really begs the question: does the loss make much difference?

We’re Still An Excellent Football Team

Personally I believe that Jürgen Klopp got his starting eleven wrong for the game, with the decision to rush James Milner back a poor one. Last season I said that Milner coming on as a sub against Pep Guardiola’s team is part of why they were able to get back into the league game at Anfield, given that he simply couldn’t get anywhere near to the pace of the match taking place in front of him. I think that the manager’s decision to put him straight in after a couple of weeks out through injury meant that he was never likely to cause City’s midfield many problems and so it proved. Obviously there’s no guarantee that Fabinho would have had the same impact on the game if he’d started, but I do think that it would have given more of a connection between the midfield and attack that was missing with the Henderson – Milner – Wijnaldum triumvirate.

The problem with that midfield is the disconnect with the front three that was evident throughout the first-half. I was annoyed when I saw the team sheet primarily because City’s defence was a makeshift one with an ageing Vincent Kompany at the centre of it and yet we didn’t do enough to put it under constant pressure. The issue is, of course, that changing things doesn’t guarantee that the bits of the performance you’re happy with automatically stay in place. Had we played Fabinho from the start in place of James Milner, might City have found it easier to attack our defence and ask more questions of the goalkeeper? Possibly. That we restricted one of the best attacks in the league to just four shots on target over the 90 minutes shows just how good we were, which is something that the loss doesn’t change.

We’ve Now Played Most Of Our Toughest Games

We have just one genuinely tough away game to come before the end of the season, which is a trip to Old Trafford. That is a difficult match because of our history away to Manchester United rather than the way they’re playing this year, even if Ole Gunnar Solskjær has persuaded his charges to pick up the tools that they were so quick to down under José Mourinho. There’s also the journey across Stanley Park to go head-to-head with our Merseyside neighbours that comes with a guarantee that they’ll want to beat us in order to dent our chances of a league title. Add into that a visit from both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur to Anfield and you can see that we still have some really tricky games in front of us. As Paul Tomkins has pointed out on Twitter, though, we’ve played more matches against the Big Six than percentage-wise than we will have done by the end of the season.

In comparison, City also have a trip to Old Trafford still to come after back-to-back games against Arsenal and Chelsea at the Etihad. They also host Spurs in April and will need to play a Leicester side that beat them during the Christmas period two games before the end of the campaign. None of those matches are necessarily going to be all that challenging for a City side that has the ability to rack up 100 points, but this is a team that has shown its weaknesses this time around. Can they guarantee that they’ll get seventeen wins between now and the end of the season? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can either, so it comes down to a straight shootout between us and them over who can hold their never and we’ve got the equivalent of two draws more than they have that we can take during the course of that, which could be crucial.

The Loss Won’t Affect Us

There are never any guarantees in football. We could go on to lose all seventeen of our remaining league games through a combination of fatigue, bad luck and really poor refereeing decisions. Yet I am confident that this Liverpool side has exactly what it takes to brush off the loss to City and to get back into the swing of things. Aside from anything else, we’ve now gotten ride of the ‘unbeaten’ monkey from our back.

Now that we don’t need to worry about the pressure of whether or not we’ll be able to repeat Arsenal’s trick of going the entire campaign without losing a game we can simply concentrate on the matches that are in front of us. In many ways it’s a shame that the FA Cup game came between the match against Pep Guardiola’s side and the one against Brighton & Hove Albion, given how keen the players will have been to get back on the horse. The team goal that we scored at the Etihad was as good as anything I’ve seen from this team this season and I think that they’ll take a lot of confidence from it.

Jürgen Klopp has experience of getting his players back on track after a loss when gunning for a league title, losing five times with Borussia Dortmund when they won the Bundesliga for the first time under his management back in 2010-2011, losing just three matches when they defended it the following season. This team has much less room for manoeuvre, of course, but that doesn’t mean that it will automatically be impossible for the manager to get his players to realise the size of the task still in front of it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Klopp’s Liverpool side has yet to lose two Premier League matches in succession, so he obviously knows how to pick them up from disappointment.

In fact, after our lost prior to City we won seven, drew two, won two, drew another one and then won the following nine, split across two seasons. In other words, this is a manager that knows what to say to his team to get them focussed on the task at hand. To say we’re taking everything one match at a time is a bit of a cliché, but I do think that it’s true of this Liverpool side. It’s what allows them to have a poor performance or a disappointing result and yet not allow it to bog us down for the matches that follow. Losing to Guardiola’s oil-rich side was a disappointment, but I’m not convinced that it’s going to de-rail our season or cause us too much anguish moving forward.

The Odds Have Shifted But We’re Still Favourites, With Previous Run-Ins A Reason To Be Cheerful

The bookmakers saw Liverpool as favourites for the title before a ball was kicked, though the odds were always due to shift dramatically one way or the other regardless of the result. The Reds had a 66% chance of lifting the trophy before the match, with that due to shift to 88% chance if we’d won and 54% with the loss that actually happened. That means that we’re still favourites, even if we’re not quite as nailed on for the win as we would’ve been if we’d emerged from the Etihad with all three points. That, of course, would’ve allowed us to lose to United, Everton and Chelsea but still been a point clear of City, instead of the one loss leeway that we’re currently allowed.

Perhaps the title odds take into account our previous tilts at the trophy, when the apparent ‘pressure’ of the run-in actually saw us win the majority of our remaining matches in each of those seasons. It wasn’t the final months that saw the title slip out of our grasp back then but the start of each of those campaigns. The start is well and truly behind us now, so if we take the 39 points from our last 15 we managed in 2002, the 30 of our final 11 from 2009 or the 36 of the last 14 fames we achieved in 2014 then we’ll finish on at least 93, 84 or 90 points respectively. With 90 never having not been enough for a team to win the title, it’s a sign that we can be confident of our loss to City helping them but not hindering us.

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