Rather notoriously, teams such as Burnley, Cardiff and QPR have suffered from ‘second season syndrome’ in previous campaigns. Fans are left in tears as they can do nothing but watch the team they love be completely bereft of ideas. Their desperate attempt to tread water in the division; ultimately futile.
Rather notoriously, Liverpool have suffered from ‘second half of the season syndrome’ in previous campaigns. Fans are left in tears as they can do nothing but watch the team they love be completely bereft of bottle. Their desperate attempt to clinch Premier League glory; ultimately futile.
Now I’m definitely skipping to conclusions there, but one thing’s for sure, seasons hinge on single moments of fortune or misfortune. 1.12cm was the difference between Liverpool taking the lead last Thursday and the difference between the gap becoming ten points temporarily. Had that defensive cock-up crossed the line, City would’ve had to claw themselves back into the game out of sheer anguish against a side that simply do not blow leads this season. Had that crossed the line – the points are probably heading to Merseyside.
But thankfully it didn’t. As the 1.12cm saved a whole nation from descending into bedlam, that large slice of fortune felt like a weight had been lifted, as if your jammy mate had finally stopped landing on properties and landed on ‘go to jail’. There’s been that Mahrez miss, Sturridge’s screamer, Pickford’s… I don’t even have words for that – but now, it appears to be someone else’s turn.
In 2014, we witnessed a bottle job that defied logic; one of the players of the season, Liverpool’s talisman, slipping to cost his team the title, consequently causing him to go into exile in America like Yoda. Nobody in their right mind can expect anything as poetic or unlikely as that to happen this time round. Make no mistake; this Liverpool team are colossal at the back, just as good as they were going forward four years ago, and overall a far more balanced team now. This almost eliminates any chances of them bottling with four games to go – but seventeen?
From now until the end of the season, they’ll be competing on two fronts with a squad that, quite frankly, has half the depth of Manchester City’s. As seen on Thursday night, just one injury to their team can be the difference between victory and defeat. The highly-rated English centre back Joe Gomez was injured for the game, consequently, in came the lowly-rated, Croatian, self-proclaimed best centre-back in the world, Dejan Lovren. Put him up against one of the Premier League’s all-time great strikers and you’re asking for trouble; Lovren allowed Aguero to get that extra yard on him, which led to an – admittedly world class – opening goal.
Shaqiri has added some much-needed attacking depth to Liverpool, but is he Mane, Salah or Firmino? Probably not, but one thing’s for sure though; Sturridge certainly isn’t. Then you look at the fullbacks and goalie; you have Mignolet, Moreno and Clyne, who has now left for Bournemouth. With two competitions to compete in, and the added challenge of one of them being against Bayern Munich, they’re living life precariously on the injury front.
On the flip side, City seem to have endured their rough patch with injuries. They’ve come out of it scarred by defeats to Chelsea, Palace and Leicester; making the hunted now the hunters. But after Thursday’s win, the squad is nearing full strength once again; Fernandinho, Delph and De Bruyne back with Mendy soon to follow, it looks as if the squad is coming together at the most ideal time possible.
As the title run-in begins to gather momentum, making a potential ten-point gap just four points after one game, gives City a huge psychological boost. They’ve been here before, they’re used to it, they revel in it; the senior players such as Aguero, Silva and especially Kompany, know what it takes. When City fans think back to past experiences, like the one they’re in now, they always come out on top. 2012, 2014, now 2019; those squads all spearheaded by the same individuals.
When Liverpool fans think about past experiences like the one they’re in now, they never come out on top. This season is shaping up to resemble the 08/09 slip-up, rather than the 13/14 one, where Manchester United kept plugging away at Rafa’s side until they eventually gave way. City need to follow suit, take it game-by-game and the fortunate results elsewhere should come.
Of course, one defeat shouldn’t change much. Unbeaten until Thursday, Liverpool have been nothing short of outstanding up to this point, definitely the best Liverpool side of the Premier League era. Any sense of doubt creeping in, should there be any, needs to be stamped out by the players immediately by getting back to winning ways – if they spend half the time looking over their shoulder they’re destined to fail.
Ironically, it was City fans in a similar predicament to Liverpool seven years ago; top of the league in January having never won the league before, it was uncharted territory for all concerned. All fans alike back then were very aware of the term ‘Typical City’ which was residual with the club, the tendency to build you up and let you down. After seeing ‘Typical City’ in full flow time and time again, it was impossible to not look over your shoulder at your neighbours; as if you were almost in a cynical state of incredulity, waiting for this feeling of elation to turn into misery. After we won the league in 2012, the 44-year weight was lifted and everyone was able to approach the 2014 title run-in with a great level more composure.
The best course of action for Liverpool this season may well be to just get over the line at all costs, whether that means throwing away the Champions League along with the FA Cup, or attacking every team bus that arrives at Anfield to do so. Just get that 29-year-old monkey off your back before it turns 30. Each agonising step Liverpool take towards the title will be met by mounting resistance from the good people of the United Kingdom; come April it’ll be a nation full of Liverpool fans and plastics, all supporting the one side that are unlucky enough to be facing them that match week. They’ve become the country’s footballing equivalent of ‘Mrs Browns Boys’; nobody can stand them. As the divisive Brexit crisis culminates, so does the prospective crisis of Liverpool actually doing it; it’s a crisis that unifies us, it’s them against the world. It can’t happen, surely? We can’t let it happen. The sheer pressure they’ll feel in these final 17 league games from now until the end will be immense, and potentially overwhelming. Their track record in ‘pressure cooker games’ doesn’t make good reading – they tend to drop the ball somewhere along the line.
For this reason, I’d tip City for the title, they’ve done it before, and in a way now, the focus is off them unless Liverpool drop points elsewhere. Being the best team in the country and being able to go about your business fairly quietly may well be a recipe for success. But nonetheless, it really is anyone’s title.