We Didn’t Slip Yesterday, But Can We Go On To Win The Rest?

How’s your bottle? How’s your nerve? Did you make it through the ninety minutes ok? Watched impassively, without any emotional investment, I can well imagine that it seemed like a done deal for Liverpool pretty much from kick-off. Chelsea came for a draw, hoping that they could nick a result by hitting us on the break. That much was evident not just from their line-up but also their time-wasting from well within the first-half. We were in control throughout, seemingly intent on being calm and poised and not feeling as though any issue had to be forced. The manager could talk about how 2013-2014 was entirely irrelevant to this match and, to an extent, he was right. Yet it certainly seemed to me that this was a team that knew the mistakes made five years ago and was determined not to repeat them. It was about being in control, not allowing ourselves to be overly exposed and taking the game to Maurizio Sarri’s well-drilled team.

It was probably my favourite display of the season so far; full of maturity, intelligent play and two brilliant goals that demonstrated the very different ways that this team can hurt you. There’s no way of knowing if we’ll win the league bar some sort of time travelling device that’s being kept quiet from everyone. One thing we can know for certain is that this team has got the chutzpah to cope with the battle that likes ahead. To go into that match, knowing that Man City have benefitted from yet another refereeing decision to win their game and put the pressure on us, with all of the pressure that’s been building all season and put in a performance like that is genuinely astonishing stuff. It never truly looked like we were under any real pressure, bar the mad five minutes after we’d gone 2-0 up. Barring the absolute moron who threw the smoke bomb into the Chelsea end and should be banned for life in my opinion, as well as the ‘banter’ accounts glorifying it, it was almost the perfect day. Will we have four more before the race is run?

Every Game Is Winnable, But That Doesn’t Mean We’ll Win Them

Let’s be honest, if you look at our run-in of Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers you’d take it over the Spurs, Man United, Burnley, Leicester City and Brighton run that Man City have got in front of them. City are more than good enough to win all of their games, of course. Spurs will be just as shattered as them by the time the league match comes around, having played them twice in a fortnight. Manchester United are, frankly, rubbish at the moment and won’t be that disappointed if they don’t win the derby, happily damaging their own Champions League chances if it means we don’t win the league. Leicester City are playing well under Brendan Rodgers but aren’t as good away from home as at the King Power, whilst Burnley will almost certainly be mathematically safe by the time their match rolls around. Brighton, meanwhile, couldn’t win a fight with a paper bag. There’s no guarantee that City drop any points whatsoever, therefore, so all we can do is keep up the pressure and hope.

It’s certainly the case that we have the ability to win all of our games. The match against Chelsea was easily our toughest remaining one on paper. Just as you can convince yourself that City won’t drop another point, so too can you look at our last four games and convince yourself of the opposite. Cardiff City might be in the relegation zone for a reason, but they’ll fighting for every last point and don’t expect any favours from Neil Warnock. The xenophobic Bluebirds manager is just as likely to send his players out to kick us all over the park as he is to try and win the game. Rafa Benitez is one of the best managers in the league, more than capable of getting a result and they won’t be mathematically safe when we play them either. Huddersfield is pretty much our only ‘banker’, which is what terrifies me about the match. Then there’s Wolves, who will be keen to get one over on us after we did them at their place. As I say, you can convince yourself of anything. They’re all winnable, but they’re far from already won.

The Champions League May Still Distract

Ahead of the Bayern Munich tie I wrote about how I wouldn’t have been devastated if Liverpool had been knocked out of the Champions League for one simple reason: fatigue. I felt our main advantage over City for the run-in was the fact that they had so many games to play and if we’d have been knocked out then we’d have at least two games fewer than them, more likely four or six. Now we are where we are, with one foot in the semi-final, and I genuinely believe that these players have the chance to win the double. Yet the reality of that is that they will, whatever happens in the Manchester United versus Barcelona tie, have two immensely difficult games to play if we make it past Porto. What adds to the interest in terms of what it might mean for our season is that they would come either side of our match against Newcastle.

It’s also why I’m very much in favour of Manchester City beating Spurs in their Champions League tie. In a perfect world the game would go to extra-time, but I think Pep Guardiola’s team having the added games that the semi-finals would throw their way could be crucial to the title’s destination. They know that any dropped points whatsoever will put us in the driving seat for the league and, should they drop them against Spurs or United, might the Spaniard start to think about resting players for a likely semi-final against Juventus? I don’t want them to win the quadruple and would actually be delighted if they ended the season with nothing more than the League Cup, but I do think them making it to the semi-finals could be crucial for us. It will distract us as much as them, of course, but there’s an argument that Juventus would be a tougher draw than either Barcelona or United, despite the emotions that would come with the latter.

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