Short Winter of Discontent Already Over?
Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Henry Jackson and Simon Curtis
Luck wasn’t on their side at the Etihad, whether it be Vincent Kompany fortunately avoiding a red card or John Stones producing a freakish clearance and nutmeg on the line, but that’s no excuse. Liverpool have experienced fortune of their own this season, so I am going to go against the grain and not act hard done by, like fans of both clubs seem to have been doing of late.
City deserved their win in a pulsating clash and it has predictably breathed new life into their season, following a Christmas blip as surprising as any in recent years. As if such a magnificent team were ever going to surrender in limp fashion.
This is, in my opinion, the most dominant Premier League side in history that Liverpool are up against - one which remains title favourites, due mainly to previous experience of getting over the finish line. They suddenly have momentum in abundance, no doubt helped by back-to-back annihilations of Rotherham and Burton in the FA Cup and League Cup, respectively.
Watching those two games was essentially like looking at that much-used, “Stop, stop! He’s already dead” Simpsons GIF for a full 90 minutes. I once lost 17-0 in a 45-minute seven-a-side game, so I know how those poor Rotherham and Burton lads feel.
That isn’t some pathetic attempt at reverse psychology, it’s the truth.
The general consensus was that another one-horse race would take place, so Liverpool being where they are is a fantastic effort. Anyway, back to Brighton. As the country tuned in preparing to mock the Reds’ latest slip-up they showcased their credentials in gritty fashion. They were patient, slowly wearing down Brighton both physically and mentally, before Salah ‘dived’ to win, and score, the match-winning penalty. This whole debate surrounding Salah is a bit mad, isn’t it? There’s a Raheem Sterling-esque witch hunt taking place now. Salah unquestionably goes down easily at times, as do many players, Sterling included, but every single penalty he has won this season has been a foul. Liverpool’s win over the Seagulls was the type we all had to witness Man United churn out for two decades, with the job done in professional fashion, without necessarily sparking into life.
It is a result that will have irked many, which is impossible not to enjoy when it’s your club pulling off the piss-boiling win. This is a very different Reds outfit to anything I have seen in the Premier League era, with so much mental resilience in their ranks. They would have to be up against this City team, wouldn’t they?
As a brief aside, this fake rivalry that is being created by both sets of supporters doesn’t sit well with me. City are fine as a club, I don’t dislike them in the slightest. They play mesmerising football, have a likeable manager and a number of players I admire greatly. Sure, the fact that they are battling with Liverpool for glory makes me will them to lose every week and laugh at them when they do, but deep down they should be allies, both loathing United in equal measure.
One thing that I do find utterly bizarre is the empty seats, though, which is a subject that has been discussed to death in the last few days. How is the Etihad not full every week when City are playing the best football in their history? I cannot get my head around it.
After Klopp’s men did the job at Brighton, it was time to see how City would fare at home to Wolves. After 19 minutes, it was game over and the first episode of True Detective was already on my mind. Willy Boly was deservedly sent-off, despite the deafening shouts suggesting otherwise, which signalled the end of the game as a contest. A easy night at the office for City, energy preserved and focus now turning to Huddersfield away on Sunday afternoon.
While I sit worrying about Roy Hodgson coming to Anfield and getting something this weekend, simply to spite the club he once looked like getting relegated, I will also hold out an ounce of hope that the Terriers can take points off City. Will they get that new manager ‘bounce’ provided by Mark Hudson, following the exit of Klopp’s great friend David Wagner? It seems almost impossible. My flatmate’s brother went to school with Hudson and has been close friends ever since, which means I’ll be doing my best to drum up the importance of Liverpool winning the league to him in the days leading up to the game.
After all, the whole country is dying to see the Reds prevail, right?
– Henry Jackson
16th January 2019 – It sometimes feels like you have reached an important junction in a season and – after Liverpool’s sumptuous unbeaten run came to a sudden and, for them, untimely conclusion against City, just such a moment appeared to have arrived.
When that was followed by a defeat in the FA Cup at Wolves, albeit with a string of raw youngsters playing, the alarm bells started to clank like an alpine cow heading rapidly down the slopes to fetch her dinner.
Make no bones about it, Liverpool have been worthy title challengers up to this point and there is no earthly reason why that should not continue to be the case right through to the dying embers of the season in May. The slew of rather daft excuses offered up after the City and Wolves setbacks may have cast the club in a slightly comedic light in the days after the games, but they remain four points clear at the top, a gap seldom breached in the last 30 years.
Jurgen Klopp, not always the most media friendly presence when things have gone against him, blamed the boisterous wind at Molyneux while the lads and lass at The Anfield Wrap went to great lengths to explain that Pep Guardiola must have paid Liverpool the ultimate compliment by asking his groundsmen to leave the grass uncut in order to slow down Liverpool’s passing game before the Etihad encounter. That it would have also slowed down City’s similarly slick passing game did not seem to enter the thought processes and that a speeded up video presentation of the day on the club’s website featured several high profile lawnmowers traversing the Etihad pitch prior to kick-off must also have passed the good folk by.
Never mind. A good excuse is always worth airing and even poor ones serve to lighten our days a little, packed as they are with ill-tempered commuter traffic, vegan sausage rolls and anti-vegan sausage roll protestors (and that’s without even mentioning that joyous bunch who represent us all in parliament). Life comes at you fast, so it’s good to laugh when the opportunity arises, even if it’s at ourselves, which City fans had been doing for decades before everything suddenly got serious.
While Liverpool were traversing their first mini crisis of a smooth as silk season, City had taken it upon themselves to follow up the ecstatic scenes of the 2-1 league win over their title rivals with a seven goal haul in the cup v Rotherham and nine more in the League Cup semi-final first leg. Oddly, 16 goals in two games was not unprecedented, as this scribe witnessed the 10-1 win over a wretched and bamboozled Huddersfield Town in 1987, followed by a six-goal midweek thrashing of Plymouth. That all seems a hell of a long time ago, so it was kind of City to repeat the trick for those that missed out the first time. For Liverpool, however it could only be imagined what further damage seeing City walloping goals in as if they were going out of fashion might do to suddenly wobbly morale. Could they emerge intact from a tricky visit to Brighton? Would the juggernaut be on its merry way once again? Brighton, with an impressively obdurate home record, would prove a stern test for a once again full strength Liverpool side, everyone chirruped.
So, what we saw at the weekend was – despite the lack of the now trademark flowing attacking football – pretty impressive. Liverpool, aided and abetted it has to be said by a softish performance from the aptly named Kevin Friend, showed their mettle in a rough and ready sort of way. Brighton, running more on enthusiasm than anything approaching proper talent, caused a problem or two but were limited in the extreme in their attempts on Alisson Becker’s goal, but Liverpool still had to dig deep to emerge with the points.
Klopp’s insistence that they are “not the Harlem Globetrotters” after all, will have brought a few of the more over-excited supporters at Anfield down to earth, which is exactly where everyone has to be if they want to continue to carry the good fight to City in the impressive manner of the last four months. Feet firmly planted on the floor would seem a much better look than the endless displays of roadside son et lumiere of the 2014 title run-in.
City meanwhile banged in another three against Wolves to make it 19 goals in their last three games and seem to be moving pretty effortlessly back through the gears towards their customary cruising speed of early autumn. Liverpool’s progress continues but recent events can only have served to remind them that being out in front at this stage can be a nerve-wracking experience. Can they hold that nerve? Can they move on from their tiny winter of discontent as City have emerged from theirs? Finding out the answers in the coming weeks is going to be absolutely fascinating. – Simon Curtis
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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