Why It’s Time To Put The Notion Of ‘Crystanbul’ To Bed

In numerous pieces recently I’ve written about the fact that I think the most important point of this title challenge is that it doesn’t feel like a one-off. I genuinely believe that we have the manager, the players and the structure in place to go again next season, even if we shoot gloriously close to the sun this time but still find ourselves plunging to the earth like Icarus. Jürgen Klopp is a world-class manager who seems to be displaying signs of his development every week, let alone from campaign to campaign. Whether it be figuring out how to cope with a physical battle with Burnley or knowing the best way of making it through a fixture-packed December and January period, the German is tweaking and changing his working methods to ensure that his Liverpool team can challenge at the top of the table year-on-year.

That is in direct contrast to our most recent title challenges in 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, both of which saw us finish second and only narrowly missing out on the title, but were each followed up with a disastrous season the next time out. Next year hasn’t happened yet, of course, but I’d be absolutely amazed if this title at the top turned out to be a flash in the pan. Neither in 2008-2009 nor in 2013-2014 were the same systems in place as this time around, nor the harmony between owners, managers and playing staff. They were title challenges built on moments and around individual players, stirring belief in the support base but ultimately built on quicksand. When the final final whistle of the season blew, everything crumbled into nothing and a feeling that we’d never reach the promised land prevailed. This time things feel different, perhaps personified more than anything else in the result at the weekend and the banishing of a famous foe.

Palace Have Long Been A Bogey Team, Despite Recent Results

Despite winning our last four league games against them, there’s long been a sense that Crystal Palace are a bogey team for the Reds. Delve into the history books and you’ll see that we lost to them in the FA Cup semi-final in 1990 by a relevant scoreline of 4-3, following that up with a 1-0 loss to them at Selhurst Park the following season. Back-to-back losses also occurred in the 1991-1992 season, with the Eagles also knocking the Reds out of the League Cup in December of 1992. Indeed, the South London club have caused up problems in the cups on a semi-regular basis, giving us a scare by winning the first leg of the League Cup semi-final 2-1 in January 2001 before we smashed them 5-0 in the second. A 2-1 loss in the same competition in October of 2005 might actually have helped us in the FA Cup in that same season, but was no more pleasing for it at the time.

The thing about football is that the future is impossible to predict, so we try to read what we can from the runes of the past. It’s why so many people were worried about the visit of Crystal Palace before a ball was kicked, knowing that they have caused us problems in the past. That our three results against them before Saturday saw three Ws go up on the board didn’t stop the fear from creeping in. We’ve also been up against them before during a title race, of course. A look over all fifty-four matches we’ve played against them will show that we’ve twenty-nine of them and only lost fourteen, but the losses have always felt more significant for some reason. Ask a Palace fan about facing Liverpool, though, and those of a certain age will talk of nothing but a 9-0 thrashing in 1990.

The Palace Result Wasn’t Why We Lost The Title In 2013-2014, It Was An Encapsulation Of The Season

In the build-up to the match and the minutes after Andros Townsend scored the opening goal, everyone had the word ‘Crystanbul’ on their lips. Our 3-3 draw with the Eagles at Selhurst Park on the 5th of May 2014 is still seen by many as the moment that we lost the title. It meant that we couldn’t even finish level on points with Manchester City and, ultimately, they won by two points. The moniker is an easy one to use, referencing the moment that we came from 3-0 down against AC Milan at the Attaturk Stadium in Istanbul to win the Champions League, but it’s also a flawed one. That ultimately ended in glory, whilst the draw with Palace simply ensured that we couldn’t finish level on points with the Manchester club.

Before a ball was kicked in May of 2014, the Reds had a goal difference deficit of nine to City. Had we shut up shop at 3-0 we’d have perhaps finished level on points with them, but we’d have still missed out on the title by 6 goals even if City didn’t score another goal more than we did in their remaining two matches. The moment that Luis Suarez grabbed the ball out of the back of the net after fifty-five minutes of play, it’s because he genuinely felt that we could notch up a cricket score. It filled those of us left devastated by Steven Gerrard’s slip and the ensuing loss to Chelsea believing, even if only briefly, that we could cut down City’s goal difference in a single game. It was a thrilling moment that encapsulating the excitement and madness of a season that had been entirely unexpected before the season got underway.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

The only problem was that another thing that had been happening all season was about to come into play: our defensive frailty. We conceded fifty goals that year, with the stunning attacking football we mustered coming at the constant expense of defensive solidity. Had we been just a little bit tighter at the back, we might well have finally reached the promised land and lifted the Premier League trophy that year. Instead, we were the most exciting team to watch in the division precisely because you had no idea what would happen from one minute to the next. Just as we thought that we could score fifteen goals and send City into their match with Aston Villa fearing that they’d lose the title to the maddest team in English football history, so too will Palace have always felt that they were never out of the game completely.

The fact that Palace will never really have felt out of the game completely is made even more insulting when you remember that their manager at the time was Tony Pulis, a man who gets a nosebleed if his players cross the halfway line. Just as that match against Palace was an encapsulation of the Liverpool team’s season, so is the weekend’s result the perfect summary of the class of 2019. We’ve gone from being a side that had a soft underbelly and a propensity to lose our heads when faced with adversity to one that can win games in virtually any circumstance. We have no problem controlling games and keeping them nice and calm, but if the opposition wants madness then we’ll match them stride for stride. The Palace game in 2013-2014 might not have been the moment we lost the title, but it remains the standout fixture of the campaign. Might Saturday’s result have the same effect this season but for all the right reasons?

Chelsea Remain The Biggest Ghost To Put To Rest Of The 2013-2014 Season

The 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace in 2013-2014 is seen by many as the definitively match of that season precisely because it so neatly encapsulated everything that was both thrilling and fragile about that Liverpool side. There’s no question, though, that the 2-0 loss to Chelsea at Anfield on the twenty-seventh of April was the moment that we lost the title. The second that we could only finish level on points with Manuel Pellegrini’s team was the second that our dream of being champions slipped away because there was no time left to close the gap of their superior goal difference. We lost to José Mourinho’s side twice that year, so it’s good that we were able to put the ghost of the Portuguese boss to rest by beating his Manchester United side at Anfield just before his sacking. The club he was in charge of at the time remains a major mental obstacle that we need to overcome if we’re really going to progress, however.

We do not have a good record against the West London club in recent times. Our last ten games against them in all competitions, stretching back to the twenty-seventh of January 2015, has seen us notch up just two wins. They have been supplemented by five wins and three losses, meaning that we’ve taken eleven points from a possible twenty-four in the league and exited the League Cup twice at their hands in the past four years. That moment that Gerrard slipped and Demba Ba raced through will sit heavily on the minds of most Liverpool supporters until we finally see the Premier League trophy in the club’s cabinet, so the game against Mauricio Sarri’s team on the thirteenth of April will loom large in our collective conscience until it’s out of the way. We banished one ghost at the weekend, so if we can add another one to the list then there’s every reason to believe that this really could be our year.

By Biser Todorov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

More than anything else, though, I just think that it’s time for the tabloids and TV companies to put to bed this false idea that it was the loss to Palace that cost us the title in 2013-2014. Rather it was a brief glimpse into what hope can lead you to believe, however falsely. When Suarez grabbed the ball I believed that we could still do it. More importantly, I think the players believed it too. Whatever happens in the next couple of months, it’s crucial that we continue to have faith in this team to do the business when it matters. We flew too close to the sun five years ago, but this time our wings are made from more substantial stuff than wax.

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