For Liverpool, Next Season Starts Now

I’m not saying last night was massively stressful, but at one point my Apple Watch asked me if I’d had a fall and I hadn’t moved off the couch. My dad has never liked watching Liverpool play against Manchester United, such is the level of animosity between the two clubs. He was away in our caravan and followed the match on BBC Sport and I can’t decide if that would have been more or less stress inducing. I don’t usually scroll through Twitter until after the match, so when I looked at my timeline afterwards it was interesting to see people absolutely losing their heads when the home side took the lead before gradually getting excited about how well the Reds were playing. I’ve been critical of Jürgen Klopp at times this season, but the Old Trafford win was very much one for the manager to own, given the bravery that he showed in his team selection and tactics.

A look at social media ahead of the game will have told you that most supporters would have played Fabinho in the backline, terrified as they were of the threat posed by Manchester United’s speedy attack. I have spend most of the campaign banging the drum that the Brazilian should never be moved out of the midfield again, which is an opinion that is backed up by the facts. That is the fourth match that Thiago, Fabinho and Wijnaldum have started together and the fourth time that the Reds have won when they’ve done so. The manager showed faith in Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips and was rewarded with two excellent displays. Yes, Phillips scored the own goal but he was unlucky with it and responded by winning a penalty and getting an assist. It’s easy to see why these players would absolutely run through brick walls for the manager.

Getting Back To Winning Ways

It was easy to feel deflated in the wake of the dropped points against Leeds United and Newcastle United recently, given the manner in which we should have been out of sight in both games only to concede late on. Quietly, though, Liverpool have become the form team in the Premier League and might well have hit their stride at exactly the right time. I’ve said before that this is a season filled with mitigating circumstances, proven by Gary Neville’s comments on Sky Sports last night. The former Manchester United man repeatedly made reference to the fact that the Red Devils were missing Harry Maguire, seemingly ignorant to the fact that Liverpool were playing arguably their seventh and eighth choice centre-backs in the match. We’ve been dealt hammer blow after hammer blow by injuries and the Video Assistant Referee all season long, but we have to get ourselves together for the run-in.

By all rights, the Reds shouldn’t even be in with a chance of finishing in the top four and I still think it’s the most Liverpool thing ever to win away at Old Trafford for the first time since 2013-2014 only to drop points to West Bromwich Albion or Burnley. Yet the reality is that we’ve been playing quite well for a while now, so have to hope the fact that neither West Brom nor Sean Dyche’s side have anything to play for and that we’ve got everything to play for means that we can pick up six points and take our chase for the Champions League to the final day of the campaign. An early goal for us could prove vital in both games, given the manner in which the opposition players will likely switch off and accept defeat should we get one. Nothing in football is ever guaranteed, but we are in position to be able to put pressure on Chelsea and Leicester City and need to do just that in order to allow our burgeoning belief to continue to grow.

We Can Challenge Again

There’s been a temptation in some quarters to write this Liverpool team off on the basis of our struggles to respond to adversity. That we lost so many games in succession at Anfield, against poor opposition too, suggested a team that was shot. At times I’ve been frustrated with our inability to rally ourselves, with both the manager and his players seeming to allow their heads to drop because something has gone against them. They will know that they’re better than they’ve demonstrated at times during the campaign and the best way to prove that to those that have criticised them is to put a run of wins together at exactly the right time and sneak into the top four. There’s no doubt in my mind that we have the ability to win the Premier League again next season, with this period right now being the time that we get back on the horse and remind everyone that we know how to ride it.

Whilst we obviously don’t know what sort of form the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and even Jordan Henderson will be in when they return from their injuries, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be unrecognisable from the players we were used to watching last season. If we sign Ozan Kabak on a permanent deal and bring in two or three other players to bolster our squad at the same time as getting rid of some of the deadwood then it’s not unreasonable to suspect that we’ll be challenging for the title again. It’s as much about belief as it is about anything else. If this side can finish in the top four after everything it has been through this season then the belief will surely be flowing again by the time the fans return to Anfield. Though the rest of the Premier League doesn’t like to admit it, we’re the only team capable of stopping Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City from winning year after year, with the fight back having already started.

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