I’ve been telling myself for ages that we can afford to drop a couple of points in the run-in. I genuinely think Manchester City will do so in at least one game, maybe two. If they make it through their hellish April without dropping a single point then they’ll deserve the title and we’ll simply have to hold our hands up and admit that they’re the best team the Premier League has ever seen. Obviously we’ll complain about their dodgy finances and I think we’ll be perfectly within our rights to do so, but that doesn’t take away from the quality that they’re producing on the pitch. If we were looking at a month in which we had to play Crystal Palace, Manchester United and Burnley away from home as well as Tottenham and Leicester City at Anfield in amongst really tough Champions League games, I think we’d expect to drop some points so why should we look at City’s fixtures any differently?
@ManCity‘s next fixtures :
Fulham ✈️ [today]
Cardiff 🏠 [3 April]
Brighton (N) FA Cup [6 April]
Tottenham ✈️ (UCL) [9 April]
Crystal Palace ✈️ [14 April]
Tottenham 🏠 [UCL] 17th April
Tottenham 🏠 [20 April]
Manchester United ✈️ [24 April] pic.twitter.com/wreHdcPmcy
— ManCity Zimbabwe🇿🇼 (@CityZimbabwe) March 30, 2019
Even with my conviction that they won’t make it through April unbeaten, however, I was still put the emotional wringer on Friday night when Liverpool decided to play like a team of bums away at St. Mary’s. I tried to remain calm. I tried to be rational about things, especially considering I’ve been saying for the past month or so that I thought Southampton away was arguably our trickiest remaining fixture. Yet when they took the lead early in the first-half and then continued to scythe us open time and again, I couldn’t help but feel as though our title challenge was hanging by a thread. I do still think we’ll be able to drop points and win the title, but I’m convinced that the order will be the crucial factor. If City drop them first then they’ll feel that they’ve handed the initiative to us and maybe mentally start to focus on the Champions League. If we do it then it will give them extra impetus to keep going. Jürgen Klopp’s team selections could therefore be crucial, but is he getting his decisions right?
He Knows What He’s Asking Of His Players, But Are They Delivering?
It’s really easy to look at Jürgen Klopp’s last two starting elevens in the cold light of day and declare that he got them both wrong. I said last week that I thought he actually got his starting line-up against Spurs absolutely spot on, as denoted by the fact that we took the lead and were generally in control until Mauricio Pochettino made his changes, at which point the away team came back in to the game more. I also think that you can look at the performance of the team at St. Mary’s and realise that the manager knows his team better than we do. After all, the midfield of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Gini Wijnaldum is exactly the one that supporters have been crying out for all season, but they looked as open as a pub on St. Patrick’s Day time and again on Friday night. Imagine if they’d done that against a Tottenham team containing Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane!
— ʝơŋŋყ-Lfc ♤ (@YNWA_920) April 5, 2019
The problem in the Spurs match wasn’t the starting XI, despite the criticism that it came in for after the match, but rather the speed with which the manager reacted to the changing circumstances. Against Southampton the same cannot be said. The team that began the match might well have been the one that Twitter has been calling for pretty much since the start of the season, but the way in which the opening stages of the game panned out might well suggest that the manager knows his team far better than FIFA playing lads on Twitter do. The question, then, isn’t about whether they’re the players that should be starting the games but rather whether they’re doing what the manager wants when the game gets underway. After all, I refuse to believe that Klopp was happy with Southampton slicing through our midfield time and time again, perhaps hoping that Keita would offer a little bit more tracking back and helping out the defence.
His Subs Are Making A Difference
It’s easy to forget just how injury ravaged the team has been for most of the season. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Joe Gomez would be a starter, with Dejan Lovren trusted by the manager far more than by most supporters. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a difference-maker during the last campaign and is yet to kick a ball in anger. Add in the fact that Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana have all been missing when Jürgen Klopp would have liked to have used them and it’s really rather remarkable that we’re still in the fight for the title and Champions League glory. The benefit of the squad now being almost completely fit is that the German has options, both in terms of who he start and who he brings on to make the difference when it matters.
Liverpool subs have scored some big goals this season. UP. THE. REDS. pic.twitter.com/uLLxS9zAbA
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) April 5, 2019
Supporters were raving about the difference that Fabinho made against Spurs, but Klopp quite rightly pointed out that you’d hope that a player coming off the bench against a load of tired lads would look better than them. Could he have impacted the game in the same way if he’d have started? It’s impossible to say, but just as Jordan Henderson and James Milner looked brilliant when they came on against Saints, it’s always easier to look impactful when you’re fresh and everyone else isn’t. Klopp has been criticised for his substitutions in the past, so is he getting them right now or does he just have more talented options to turn to? The balance he now has to cope with is the desire to get game time into the lads that lack match fitness at the same time as needed points and progression. I’m trusting him to keep getting the balance right.