Liverpool had one of their ‘very good days’ after a pulsating win over Arsenal, as Dave Tindall looks ahead to Burnley and debates the Champions League spots.
Without doubt, I was happy to watch us score a 3-1 win over Arsenal last weekend and fling the sad/happy LFC fan swingometer to the right again after the debacle at Leicester.
And yet, in some ways, it didn’t tell us anything.
Liverpool are excellent against the big teams and shocking against anyone flirting with relegation. We’re reminded about it constantly.
If you like a punt, LFC are the easiest team to predict. Back us at decent odds against the rest of the top six and oppose us if we’re long odds-on against a struggler.
That simple formula has certainly been coming up trumps over the last six weeks. Lose to Wolves, draw with Chelsea (becoming just the second team in 16 Premier League games to deny them victory), lose to Hull, beat Spurs, lose to Leicester, beat Arsenal.
An excellent seven points out of nine against the elite and an FA Cup defeat and zero points out of six against a Championship outfit and two sides who started those matches in the bottom three.
It follows that the gloomier element of the Liverpool fan base will be thinking “we all know what’s coming next” given that Saturday’s visitors to Anfield are Burnley.
Of course, it was the Clarets who reminded us off this all-too-familiar Achilles Heel earlier in the season when, due to the rebuilding of our new stand, we played them at Turf Moor rather than at home.
Looking to taste come Claret in Anfield revenge mission
Fresh from a thrilling 4-3 win at Arsenal, we had our noses tweaked big time and lost 2-0. “Typical Liverpool”, “can’t be trusted”, “don’t like it up ‘em” shrieked the doubters.
After the rash of losses at the start of 2017, it’s easy to forget that we followed that Burnley defeat by going 15 games unbeaten. In fact, had we not suffered those 15 minutes of madness at Bournemouth after cruising into a 3-1 lead, Liverpool would have gone from August 20th to January 11th without losing; 20 weeks and 4 days without an ‘L’ on our results tab.
For a long while then, Burnley was a blip. The outlier in a season of success that would see us challenge for the title and bank a top four spot at minimum.
The script has had several unwanted twists since and it means the return game is no longer just being viewed as a routine three points. Instead, it’s about convincing a highly critical jury.
So, after playing to type over the last four games, have Liverpool got the nous and passion to change the plot? Can we avoid this yellowest of banana skins against a Burnley side who are simply hopeless on the road having taken just two points from a possible 39?
Burnley at home is the start of an 11-match run to the finishing line. It’s followed by Man City (a), Everton (h), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a), West Brom (a), Crystal Palace (h), Watford (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a) and Middlesbrough (h).
Instinct divides at this point. One knee jerks with positivity, the other with fear. There’s an awful lot of winnable fixtures in there. Then again, there’s an awful lot of potential for cock-ups.
A random work kitchen chat with a Burnley fan on Tuesday did at least add some positivity to my conflicted thoughts. After a couple of improved displays on the road from his team, he’s convinced that Liverpool will tear them apart.
True, it’s reassuring to see that they’ve come away with nothing in seven of their last eight road trips since mid-December but it makes less pleasant reading that they haven’t lost by more than a single goal in any of those games.
However, the last-minute 3-2 loss at Swansea may have flattered them. The Swans hit the post twice, had shots cleared off the line and Burnley’s penalty was hotly debated.
If we show the same verve of those first 45 minutes against Spurs and Arsenal, there’s the chance to put this one to bed early and rack up a few. And the importance of that shouldn’t be underestimated because that fight for a Champions League spot could easily come down to goal difference.
Just who will make those coveted top-four spots?
The “will we, won’t we” question has troubled me a lot over the last few months and I’ll admit I’ve answered in the negative plenty of times in the daily poll sent out by the part of my brain devoted to all things football.
But, right now, I think I finally have some clarity and solid reasoning.
It goes like this….
Chelsea have obviously got one spot sewn up and Pep’s got Man City purring so, despite the 0-0 with Stoke, they’re not missing out. Neither are Spurs, who never mess up at home and have one of the world’s hottest strikers.
But Arsenal and Manchester United?
Which team is most likely to miss out on a Champions League spot?
The Gunners are absolutely there for the taking. The 10-2 aggregate Champions League loss to Bayern will surely be the watershed moment in whether Arsene Wenger stays or leaves and my only fear is that he’ll depart before the end of the season and they’ll benefit from new manager ‘bounce’.
For United, I think this season will be all about the Cups. They’ve already got one in the bag and I suspect that winning more silverware means more to Jose Mourinho and his legacy than the alternative of semi-final defeats and nicking fourth.
Add in a ban for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a propensity to keep dropping silly points at home and they’re beatable. In fact, there may come a point when Mourinho realises winning the Europa League is a simpler path to the Champions League than trying to haul themselves into the top four.
I ‘joked’ last week that we’d probably beat Arsenal and follow it up with a 1-0 loss to Burnley but I don’t really believe that now.
Despite the wobbles, we’re the Premier League’s leading scorers (58) and that front five of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum are all fit and well again.
Add in Divock Origi (I’ve forgotten than Daniel Sturridge still plays for us) and that six have either scored or assisted (I’m giving Lallana one for his brilliant part in the final goal v Arsenal) in the last two games.
We’re in the top four right now and, if the bookies are correct, we’re staying there. Latest odds to finish in the four: 1/2000 Chelsea, 1/7 Spurs, 1/6 Man City, 4/7 Liverpool, 11/8 Arsenal 15/8 Man Utd. I’m not arguing with that assessment.
It may be Burnley on Saturday but given our favourable fixture list and riches in attack, I’m optimistic that it’s the B’s of Bayern, Barca and Borussia Dortmund who we’ll be mixing it with next season.