Whatever Happens From Here, It’s A Season To Be Proud Of

It might be hard for regular readers to believe, but I really don’t like talking about referees. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t know the names of any of them and decisions would be consistent across the board. Obviously we don’t live in a perfect world, so I’d settle for watching a football match and feeling as though the person in the middle refereed each team to the same standard. In David Coote on Sunday, I had the misfortune of seeing one of the worst refereeing performances I’ve seen in person. If a Brighton & Hove Albion player went down, they were winning the free-kick. If a Liverpool player went down, he happily waved play on in all but a few circumstances. A quick look at the stats tells the story of the refereeing performance quite well, I think. The Reds had 54% possession and 30 shots, yet committed 20 fouls compared to Brighton’s six. Five of our players were booked, three of Brighton’s. I was at Anfield. There is no world in which it was a violent or feisty game, yet Coote was refereeing it in a way that suggested we were acting like Sean Dyche’s Burnley.

The outcome of football matches and, by extension, league titles should not be decided by the way in which officials choose to referee some matches and not others. Holding Liverpool to a higher standard than Brighton is not how it’s supposed to work. In the 115 Charges FC game against Arsenal, meanwhile, Mancunian Anthony Taylor decided to allow all sorts of tactical fouls and poor challenges go without giving out a yellow card in order to ‘let the game flow’. Doubtless Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville will have been delighted on commentary, but the referee’s job is to uphold the laws of the game, not pick and choose what is and isn’t a yellow card worthy offence. I don’t necessarily think it is an anti-Liverpool thing in the case of Coote, who I just think is an appalling referee that is nowhere near the standard required to officiate in the Premier League. My dream world remains a long way off, but the robot referees who officiate according to the laws of the game can’t come in soon enough. The only fair Premier League is one in which all matches and both teams are refereed to the same standard.

We Might Not Win the League

Given the fact that we are currently two points clear of Arsenal and three points clear of Pep Guardiola’s City, it would be entirely reasonable for people to be getting excited. That those two sides are playing in the Champions League and, if they make it through tricky quarter-final matches, may have to face each other in the semi-final means that their commitments in Europe are likely to have more of an impact on their Premier League campaign than our games in the Europa League will have on ours. That could be crucial, given the fact that we still have some really tricky ties to negotiate before the league season reaches its conclusion. When we missed out on the title in 2018-2019, Liverpool ended up drawing matches at Goodison Park and Old Trafford, with wins in either being enough to secure us the title. We cannot under-estimate them, nor how tricky it might be to go to Villa Park, with Villa having beaten both of our title rivals already this season. Although we are better than all of the teams we still have to face, it would be arrogant to assume that we’ve as good as won the games without playing them.

It isn’t out of the realms of the possible that we could lose to any of the teams that we’re still to play this season, up to and including Sheffield United on Thursday night. Whilst I’m confident that our game against Chris Wilder’s men will provide an opportunity to improve our goal difference, any time this Liverpool side seems to be a bit complacent is one in which we end up looking silly. More importantly, we’re having to take on the Manchester City juggernaut that we know has been repeatedly allowed to win trophies in spite of everyone in football knowing exactly what they’ve been up to, plus an Arsenal side that was able to spend more than £100 million on one player in the summer as though it meant nothing. If we end up missing out on the title, there will be plenty of people quick to take to social media in order to declare us as ‘bottlers’, but this Liverpool side has done incredibly well to even be part of the conversation when you think of all of the adversity that we’ve faced along the way. We might not win the title, but there’s still plenty to be incredibly proud of.

We’ve Coped Well With Adversity

It is quite easy to be dismissive of the way in which Liverpool have rolled with the punches this season. I put a tweet out saying that we’ve been incredibly unlucky with refereeing decisions and I had actual Liverpool supporters telling me I was being biased and other teams have been just as unlucky. As far as we are all aware, there is no other side in the Premier League that had an actual goal given by the Video Assistant Referee but not actually awarded to them. Arsenal did not see a Liverpool player virtually play basketball in the penalty area at the Emirates and not have a penalty given against them in the same was as Martin Odergaard did at Anfield. Guardiola might well have spontaneously combusted had Alexis Mac Allister kicked Jeremy Doku in the chest in the Liverpool area and a penalty not been given against his side in the way we suffered. Yes, everyone has decisions go against them during the course of a season, but no other side has had such egregious decisions go against them in title-deciders like we have. Yet we haven’t let it derail our campaign.

Then there are the injuries. For vast periods of the season we’ve been without Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mo Salah, Alisson Becker, Curtis Jones, Andy Robertson, Alexis Mac Allister and Diogo Jota. To all intents and purposes, Thiago Alcantara, Stefan Bajcetic and Joel Matip have been out for the season. In years gone by, that sort of thing would have completely de-railed us. Instead, we were competing on all four fronts until a freak result against Manchester United saw us knocked out of the FA Cup. The kids have stepped up to the plate, with Jarell Quansah and Conor Bradley making themselves first-choice players when it has mattered the most. Caoimhin Kelleher has been incredible in the absence of the world’s best goalkeeper. The manager’s decision to announce that he would be leaving at the end of the campaign could’ve seen heads drop, but instead appeared to galvanise everyone to get the job done. There have been numerous times when our season could’ve unravelled, but there is a collective will to refuse to allow that to happen. This is a season that will live long in the memory, even if we only end up with a League Cup to show for it.

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