Liverpool’s ghost of Christmas past

It has been well documented over the past few weeks that on 8 of the past 10 seasons, the team at the top of the table at Christmas have went on to win the league. The 2 exceptions are Liverpool of course. In the 08/09 under Rafa Benitez and then again 13/14 under Brendan Rodgers.

In the 08/09 season Liverpool faded somewhat in the second half after Benitez’s infamous ‘Facts’ rant. In the 13/14 season Liverpool were still top with 3 games to go, only to choke and hand the league to Man City. The devastating loss to Chelsea along with that monumental collapse 3-0 up at Crystal Palace ended Liverpool’s chances that year.

Embed from Getty Images

Liverpool could look back on both those occasions and learn something. Quite simply they need to keep calm on and off the pitch. In 08/09 Benitez clearly lost his cool trying to play mind games with Ferguson and as a result the whole team suffered. In 13/14 the players lost their cool on the pitch during that 3rd last game against Mourinho’s bus-parking, slow-moving Chelsea. Liverpool were trying a little too hard to win that game when a draw along with 2 wins from the last 2 games would have secured the league.

Despite their defeat to Man City last night Liverpool have no need to panic and with Jurgen Klopp at the helm and this group of players they are much better equipped to deal with the pressure. In both 08/09 and 13/14 Liverpool had an excellent first 11 but beyond that it was very limited. It was almost inevitable that those players would not be able to keep up that level of performance the whole season with no backup. Liverpool have a huge squad this time. They have players who can make a big impact from the bench, and with several players still to come back from injury they are in much better shape than those previously failed attempts to win the league.

The problem for Liverpool this year is they are not up against just one great manager and squad but two. Tottenham are just 6 points behind Liverpool and must also be considered contenders for the league. They have won the same amount of matches in the league as Man City which is quite impressive. Their only negative point is they’ve lost the other 5 matches failing to rescue a draw yet. Grinding out a few wins or draws from difficult situations is something Liverpool and City have both managed this season and it is also seen as a sign that a team has got that extra grit and determination needed to become champions of England. If Spurs can correct that in the 2nd half of the season they will play a very important part in the title race.

Embed from Getty Images

With many non Liverpool fans hoping this is the start of a blip in form, and Man City’s big players coming back from injury, and Spurs form improving, the 2nd half of the season is shaping up to be a cracker with a few more twists and turns to come. Can Liverpool finally rid themselves of that ghost of Christmas past? We will find out in May.

Advertisements

Man Utd falling into the footballing abyss

The rate at which Man Utd appear to be falling into the footballing abyss is quite alarming. It just goes to show how quickly things can change in football.

Man Utd finished last season relatively unchallenged in 2nd place. Although the standard of football was already not of the most desirable variety, Mourinho was still getting the results. This year however things are not going the same way. Bad performances and bad results are making for a very unhappy camp.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s difficult to see Mourinho keeping his job much longer but Man Utd are not really the panic sacking sort of club. In the post Ferguson era they have usually given their managers almost full seasons before getting rid of them. The other problem they have is who is even available right now that could come in and straighten the team out. So the question is do they continue with Mourinho till the end of the season with morale seemingly at an all time low, or do they get rid now and bring in a temporary manager or promote someone from within.

In contrast to Man Utd, Arsenal seem to be on the up despite their loss to Southampton at the weekend. Their first loss in 22 games, since they started the season with 2 defeats. Last season they found themselves in a similar situation to Man Utd’s this season. With bad performances and results, they took the plunge and finally got rid of Wenger. However when you look at their match day squad, there are not that many changes to the squads of Wenger. A perfect example of how a fresh set of eyes (Unai Emery) can lift a talented set of players and give them a new direction and purpose.

A fresh set of eyes is surely something Man Utd could do with right now. When you look at their squad, it’s unbelievable to think that with the talent on offer, they find themselves in this situation. Mourinho’s 3rd season syndrome seems to be striking again and if someone doesn’t address the situation soon, the rot that is setting in, could be widespread by the end of the season.

Embed from Getty Images

Liverpool on the other hand are like an unstoppable train recently. Qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League and top of the Premier League. Every player seems to be buzzing right now and very eager to make an empression, whether it’s from the bench or the starting line up. The same cannot be said for Man Utd. Klopp trusts his players and clearly let’s them know. Take Nathaniel Clyne for example. It was his first start of the season and he had a very solid game. If you have the backing of your manager, that can give your confidence a great boost. Clyne didn’t seem fazed despite the big occasion or the lack of recent playing time. Mourinho could certainly take a leaf out of Klopp’s book on this topic.

Liverpool… Top?

If you had have told me when Liverpool were 1-0 down to Burnley on Wednesday night, that they would be top come Saturday evening, I can’t say I would have believed you.

Somehow they’ve managed to find themselves at the summit of the Premier League despite the relentless pace of Man City. On the inside I’m dancing but my head is telling me, haven’t we been here before?

Embed from Getty Images

They’ve kept up with Man City with several grinded results so far and avoiding defeat against the 3 next best teams in the league. Their brand of football this season has not always been befitting of a league winning team but their defence certainly has. The addition of Alisson has been a huge success already. He has come up with some vital saves at crucial times in matches and his distribution has been excellent, leading to several breakaway goals for Liverpool this season. The central defensive partnership of van Dijk and Gomez has been an absolute rock at the back. Something Liverpool have been missing for quite some time.

The midfield however is not as strong as it has been in recent years. Ironically I think that the amount of options they have in midfield has weaked it slightly. With Henderson as captain Klopp probably feels obliged to play him when injury free despite his lack of form so far this season. With Milner’s age Klopp possibly feels he needs rested more than others, but not something I would agree with due to his great form when he plays. Keita and Lallana have been somewhat injured and unable to get a consistent run in the team. Fabinho and Shaqiri have recently been given their chance and have given Klopp a headache with some good performances. The one almost ever-present and consistently well performing player is Wijnaldum. Due to his role, which mainly involves adapting to whichever 2 players he lines up along side, he has flown under the radar but has this season become an absolutely vital part of Liverpool’s midfield 3.

Embed from Getty Images

Of course I’m playing Liverpool’s chances of winning the league down. It is afterall only December and there’s a lot of football to go but it’s certainly exciting times for Liverpool fans. The next month however will severely test Liverpool’s resolve in both the Champions League and Premier League. With vital home games to Napoli, Man Utd and Arsenal coming up in December and starting the new year with an away trip to Man City we will know more about Liverpool’s title and Champions League credentials. Let’s hope for the sake of the Premier League, they can keep up the pace.

For Klopp Sake

As a Liverpool fan it’s difficult to criticise Klopp, but let’s be honest if Mourinho had have run on to the pitch in the way Klopp did during the Everton match, he would be getting butchered by the fans and press right now. It seems Klopp can just do no wrong.

I cannot defend Klopp’s actions but I can offer some opinions as to why he gets away with this sort of thing when Mourinho wouldn’t. Personality and respect. These 2 traits come across very differently in the 2 managers. Klopp always appears very personable and open in his press conferences which makes him very likeable. Mourinho on the other hand seems more closed off and distant.

Any form of criticism Mourinho receives, he takes it very personally and sees it as disrespectful. With all his achievements in the game, he feels he should be immune from criticism but football is a fickle sport and people have short memories. Klopp can handle the criticism a little better usually giving more insight into the situation or trying to turn the criticism into a positive. Klopp never gets frustrated during interviews even if he receives some stupid questions unlike Mourinho.

All of these factors combined make Klopp a very likeable character in the world of football and therefore somewhat immune to criticism. He is also more likely to get away with some controversial acts such as running onto the pitch during a match. Something Mourinho would get lambasted for. In this particular incident Klopp is lucky the opposition manager Marco Silva and his players didn’t view the incident as disrespectful or react angrily which may help Klopp’s case if the FA come calling.

gettyimages-1076157662-594x594

Let’s not let this incident take away from what was another great weekend in the Premier League. 3 big derbys today and 3 big wins. Spurs continue to blow hot and cold on the big matches this season. They’ve had 2 big wins against Man Utd and Chelsea but also convincing defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal now. After the first 2 matches of the season ended in defeat for Arsenal, they’ve been on an uphill roller-coaster ever since, quietly creeping back up the table and now look very capable of finishing in the top 4 or better.

After Jordan Pickford’s horrendous error gifted Liverpool a somewhat undeserved 96th minute victory in the Merseyside derby, Liverpool stay in touching distance behind Man City with just a 2 point difference. Despite the small gap at the top of the table Man City still appear to be on a different footballing planet to the rest of the Premier League. They managed to cruise to a relatively comfortable 3-1 win against a determined Bournemouth without their 3 most influential players, Aguero, de Bruyne and Silva although the latter did appear as a substitute.

Man Utd also stumbled to another draw against a very poor Southampton side, or is it the other way around.

Liverpool firing again

With 8 goals in the past 2 games Liverpool appear to be firing again but the truth is they won both games at a canter barely breaking sweat.

Of course the class of opposition (Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff City) at home didn’t put up much of a fight but having watched both matches I’m still expecting more. As a fan of the Reds maybe I’m expecting too much after the highs of last season.

After Coutinho left Liverpool in January there was a massive hole left in the Liverpool midfield. Although Coutinho is irreplaceable Oxlade-Chamberlain got his chance and really showed what he is capable of. A completely different option than Coutinho but very effective with his fast powerful runs from midfield creating space for others.

Since the start of this season Liverpool have been playing the midfield 3 with a combination of Milner/Henderson/Wijnaldum/Keita. All great players of course but similar styles, passers, ball protecters and play breakers. None of them with the exception of maybe Keita play with the same dynamism as Oxlade-Chamberlain but in the case of Keita it’s too early to tell. The bottom line is in offensive terms Liverpool have dearly missed Oxlade-Chamberlain and I think that has contributed to the lack of goals.

With recent injuries to Keita and Henderson a spot has opened up in the midfield and now Shaqiri has got his chance. A slightly different type of player again, clever with an eye for a pass and he has certainly shook up the offensive style of Liverpool. With several assists and a goal to his name already, coinciding with Liverpool’s increasing form it’s going to be difficult to drop him from the team.

The point I’m trying to make is that Liverpool need a Shaqiri or Oxlade-Chamberlain type player in the midfield, someone who can link the midfield better with the front 3. With their improved defence, they certainly don’t need 3 sitting midfielders and with Fabinho being slowly introduced into the first team that could leave a huge competition of 5 midfield players for just 2 positions and that’s not even including Lallana and where he fits into the picture.

This is all theoretical of course and the likelyhood is Klopp will continue to chop and change his midfield based on form and fitness and the the fixture schedule but if everyone is fit and uninjured this gives Liverpool an absolute wealth of options in the middle of the park and a potential headache for Klopp keeping them all happy. If Klopp succeeds there can surely be no excuses if Liverpool fail to win some silverware this season.