Liverpool’s draw with Chelsea could prove a turning point in their season as Dave Tindall uses this week’s Red Letter to insist the Reds cannot have any excuses for missing out on the Champions League places.
There’s no getting away from it, January was an absolutely horrible month for LFC.
Outplayed by Southampton over two legs of a League Cup semi-final and Wembley dreams left in tatters, dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship strugglers Wolves and not a single win in the Premier League, leaving the title out of reach and confidence over a top-four finish downgraded from high to fragile.
And yet just when it all seems catastrophically grim, when you lose three successive home games to teams you should be putting away with ease and when you go behind to a free-kick from the runaway Premier League leaders when your goalkeeper isn’t even looking, a ray of light suddenly appears.
So as we wave good riddance to January, LFC can reflect on the fact that its final day may have provided the turning point of our season.
Liverpool were staring down the barrel of a fourth straight home defeat when Chelsea went into half-time 1-0 up on Tuesday night. And, make no mistake, it had to be viewed like that against a team which had won 14 of their previous 15 games and failed to win just once all season when scoring the opening goal.
From here, all recent experience told us that Chelsea would either shut up shop or extend their lead when gaps opened.
Mignolet earns Liverpool reprieve
Instead, we put them on the back foot, found a weakness in their defence and forced an equaliser via the head of Gini Wijnaldum. That was step one.
When you’re struggling, the script demands that this is a temporary reprieve; you trip up again and the good work is unravelled.
But when that scenario emerged 15 minutes from time and Joel Matip caught Diego Costa to concede a penalty, instead of bowing to what seemed the inevitable, Simon Mignolet atoned for his earlier mental gaffe and decided otherwise.
If the spot-kick goes in, the Belgian is derided for allowing the quick-thinking David Luiz to punish his first-half loss of concentration, the old goalkeeper debate is opened up again and we Liverpool fans spend the night muttering about missed chances, the fact that Adam Lallana never fouled Eden Hazard in the first place for their free-kick and the general woolly notion of bad luck.
Instead, we were celebrating Mignolet’s save as much as Wijnaldum’s goal as he flung himself to his right to palm away the Spaniard’s penalty. The execution squad had lined us up and yet we’d dodged the bullet.
Scream it loudly, that was a TURNING POINT!
Title hopes over, but draw keeps Champions League push alive
Yes, Roberto Firmino could have won it late on and should have equalised before Wijnaldum did but the thoughts in my head in the aftermath of Tuesday night’s game were positive ones.
The rot had been stopped and to aid the feeling of momentum changing, Arsenal had somehow lost at home to out-of-form Watford and Spurs had taken a leaf out of our book of mishaps by failing to win at Sunderland.
I can’t say I’m thinking of the title (Chelsea will win it comfortably) but Champions League? You bet we’re still in that race. We’ve had our dip and maybe it’s now time for others to realise that when you’re not on your game, other teams will take advantage. The Premier League isn’t just a case of racking up weekly wins against lower-table fodder as it might be in Germany or Spain.
If Liverpool miss CL door, it’s a golden opportunity missed
But with no Europe and no Cups, Liverpool’s path to the top four finishing line is clearer than anyone’s…..
We have 15 Premier League games to play and that’s it. Eight are at Anfield, seven are away. Apart from a home match against Bournemouth on a Wednesday night in April, we don’t play more than once a week for the rest of the season. Our last six fixtures are West Brom (away), Crystal Palace (home), Watford (away), Southampton (home), West Ham (away), Middlesbrough (home).
In short, the Champions League door is open. If we don’t walk through it, it’s a golden opportunity missed.
Liverpool big guns back together
For the first time since the 6-1 home win over Watford on November 6, Liverpool had Lallana, Mane, Firmino and Coutinho on the pitch at the same time during the draw with Chelsea. When that quartet get their sharpness back, it will make a definite difference.
The feeling that we can now go on a run is helped by some good timing with the fixture list.
Next up is Hull away and it’s surely a good time to be playing them. They’ve sold some of their better players and brought in new ones that will need time to settle. It can be a difficult place to go to but we won’t get a better chance than this.
Biggest factor behind Liverpool’s struggles?
After that our next two home games are against Spurs and Arsenal.
They look tough on paper but if Liverpool fans want an extra jolt of confidence, consider this stat: In 21 games against the other top six sides (Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Man City and Man Utd), Jurgen Klopp’s record is Won 10, Drawn 10, Lost 1. That’s outstanding.
The boss has taken some flack this week for sending out a weakened team against Wolves but you have to give youngsters a go at some point and it’s worth noting that nine internationals either started or came off the bench during that match.
Wolves caught us on a bad day in a terrible month. It wasn’t to be.
Clearly, Klopp had the Chelsea game in mind and the 1-1 draw against the leaders surely goes some way to vindicating his team selection. It’s been a busy schedule and, had we gone full strength against Wolves, the same energy would not have been there against Chelsea.
Last year we had fun in the Cups but this time it’s the Premier League and top four that matters most and the boss has left us in no doubt where his priorities lie.
Klopp a brilliant manager and can prove he’s able to find solutions
He has plenty more puzzles still to solve now that teams think they’ve worked us out but this is why we paid the big bucks to bring him in. Klopp is a brilliant manager and has a track record of finding solutions.
There were words of encouragement from Steven Gerrard as he analysed the draw with Chelsea that saw the month out.
“The team were back,” said the former skipper. “That’s by far Liverpool’s best performance in January by miles.”
But I’ll leave the last word to Klopp because he, more than anyone, knows how to find the right words and send out a positive message when times get tough.
“This team is absolutely, without a doubt, outstanding in attitude,” said the German after watching the draw with Chelsea.
“Let’s do the best we can. And let’s look where we are at the end of the season. We will fight. Everybody saw it tonight, we will fight for each point. Now with 15 games left, with a full squad, let’s give it all we’ve got.”