3rd April 2019 – “Please be ‘Spursy’, Spurs”.
Those were the four words I wrote in the last instalment of this bias-fuelled take on what continues to be a thrilling Premier League title race. And my God Tottenham came up trumps. Liverpool have been magnificent this season, but recent weeks have seen dominant all-round performances replaced with shaky, unconvincing displays.
Every great team experiences such periods, so it is nothing to be ashamed of. The difference is that Reds sides of the past would have crumbled a long time ago now. This group of players are the most mentally resolute at Anfield in 30 years, though, led by a special manager in Jurgen Klopp.
The Spurs game was another harrowing experience, in a match Liverpool did not deserve to win. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have consistently been the best side to visit Anfield in the last two or three seasons and they impressed again.
Liverpool had a chance to put Spurs to bed after Roberto Firmino’s opener, but as was the case against Leicester and West Ham recently, they got sloppy and allowed their opponents to equalise.
Then there was the Moussa Sissoko moment - an incident that drew comparisons with Eidur Gudjohnsen’s last-gasp miss in the 2005 Champions League semi-final second leg. It could be equally as big come May. As the midfielder raced through, images of Willian tapping into an empty net in 2014 came flooding back, and the dream was on the cusp of dying. Then Virgil van Dijk decided to show why he is the world’s best defender, closing off the space to Son Heung-min and forcing Sissoko into a shot with his weaker left foot, before he blazed over.
If that had been Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren or most other mere mortal centre-backs, Liverpool would have conceded, but Van Dijk is a true colossus. He didn’t panic, gambled on Sissoko missing and the Reds stayed alive. The last-minute own goal that followed was one of those ‘name is on the trophy’ moments for neutrals watching on, but I have experienced far too much heartbreak to ever be thinking that, Rival fans will be saying it is written in the stars that Liverpool willbe crowned champions in May - nice try with the reverse psychology, lads - but we’re not stupid. People were saying exactly the same thing in 2014 and during last season’s Champions League run. Look how they both cruelly panned out.
I mentioned last time that luck was going to play a pivotal role in the title race and there is no doubting that Liverpool benefited from it against Spurs, and have done numerous times this season. Hugo Lloris’ mistake can sit alongside the goalkeeping howlers produced by Jordan Pickford and Julian Speroni at the Kop end, and Toby Alderweireld’s subsequent own goal was a hugely beneficial moment. As stated previously, though, I firmly believe Liverpool are due some luck in a title race, biased though that may sound.
Let’s not kid ourselves about them having all the luck, though. Winning breeds hate, which is why so many are being left infuriated by ‘Lucky Liverpool’, but they have experienced plenty of misfortunate as well. Examples include: the ball being millimetres from crossing the lines against Man City, Vincent Kompany avoiding a red card in the same game and Naby Keita not winning a penalty late on against Leicester. I could go on.
Have the Reds been lucky? Absolutely. Is it the key to their title charge? Not in the slightest. If you think that, take up rugby. I’ve spent an awfully long time speaking about my own team when I should really be focusing on City, but everything is a little low-key and frustratingly easy for them at present.
Their fixtures seem eternally easy, there are no dramas whatsoever and they are serenely getting closer to achieving what would be the most remarkable of quadruples. I can’t remember the last City game I watched with any great interest, simply because their matches have been so routine and lacking in drama. The Fulham game followed a pattern that has become the norm this season: gift City an early goal and let them saunter through the rest of proceedings.
This is all one giant compliment to Pep Guardiola’s men, of course, who make everything look so ridiculously straightforward and barely even look like they are in a pulsating title battle currently. Bernardo Silva yet again proved to be an inspiration, and while Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling have been superb all season, the Portuguese has been the main man for me. He is the one I fear - the one who will keep producing big moments when others around him are
potentially flagging. What a footballer he is.
It is easy to put a pessimistic stance on any of the Reds’ remaining games, but the trip to St Mary’s does look awkward. It is a Friday night game with the whole country watching, and the home crowd will be fired up, particularly as they loathe Liverpool for signing all their best players in recent years. Saints have also won their last two games and remain in need of points. Get through that and it will be another significant three points for Klopp’s men, ahead of what becomes a far more taxing run for City.
They are in FA Cup semi-final action this weekend, which will likely be another one-sided win over Brighton - I will be more engrossed in the Grand National, summing up what the cup has become to me these days. We will reconvene next week, with the mouthwatering Champions League quarter-finals taking
place and City’s legs and resolve finally set to be tested.in those the final eight games
But for now, thanks for being Spursy, Spurs…
- Henry Jackson
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
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