Liverpool can reflect on a decent haul this Christmas despite their frustrations in drawing at Sunderland as Dave Tindall revisits their title prospects in this week’s Red Letter.
Seven points from nine over the hectic Christmas period was a pretty strong return and it looked even better when the Chelsea juggernaut was finally halted at Spurs on Wednesday night.
That meant, despite our ridiculous schedule (who ever has 43 and a half hours between kick-offs?), we came out of it having gained a point on Chelsea and closed their lead to five.
Having said that, find me a Liverpool fan who didn’t chuck a chocolate orange at the sofa in frustration after we had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Sunderland despite leading twice!
Overall, we probably saw all three sides of Liverpool in this rat-a-tat burst of games.
Against Stoke, it was the relentless attacking machine that made light of going a goal down early on.
There are plenty of times when you watch your team fall 1-0 behind and fear the worst. But on this occasion I actually turned to a mate and said defiantly, “We’ll win this 4-1”.
It turned out to be one of my best predictions of 2016 although did I have a penny on that scoreline at fancy odds? Did I heck! That said, seeing us fire back with four goals and make it three Premier League wins on the spin was enough of a Christmas present.
The quartet of strikes against Stoke made it 100 Premier League goals under Jurgen Klopp, the first netted by his fellow German Emre Can and the landmark reached thanks to Daniel Sturridge.
That Sturridge only contributed seven goals to that Klopp century is telling. The goals have been shared with Roberto Firmino (16), Philippe Coutinho (12) and Adam Lallana (11) the only three to hit double figures. Proof indeed that the team is the star under Klopp.
Liverpool can take heart from 1-0 wins
As well as the football coming thick and fast, Christmas also means lots of family time and commitments and, due to my parents not having BT Sport, I didn’t see a kick of our game with Man City until Match of the Day later that night.
The last time I completely missed a big clash like this, the opposition were Manchester United and it was the close-but-no-cigar 2009 season.
I had my Dad hat on that day so, instead of ruining a day out to a wildlife park by manically refreshing my phone every five seconds, I decided to switch it off and do the big reveal an hour after the match had finished.
I’ll never forget that March day as I turned my phone back on to read the eye-popping scoreline of Man Utd 1-4 Liverpool. The title dream was back on although, of course, we came up short.
So, like every superstitious fan, I reckoned sliding the ‘off’ button for a game against a big rival from Manchester could once more somehow produce a 4-1 win.
This time I sat through an Asterisk film feeling twitchy and restless about what was happening at Anfield. The game started at 5.30pm, the film finished at 8pm. I was determined not to sneak a peek at half-time and incur the wrath of my kids and, thanks to impressive will power and a feeling of not wanting to jinx the result, I managed it.
So, it was with racing heart that I reached for the phone as the credits rolled. I’d been quietly confident and imagined something along the lines of 3-2 to us. Games against City always produce goals and, after all, the top two scorers this season are us and them. Maybe even a crazy 4-3. A 2-2 draw also crossed my mind.
The first clue on my phone was a team shot of Liverpool celebrating. I clicked into the story and, to my delight but also surprise, we’d won 1-0. Really?!
Yep, I read the first few paragraphs and we’d triumphed via a Gini Wijnaldum header of all things. You could have given me 500 guesses at how the match would have been decided and that particular scenario wouldn’t have been anywhere near my list.
It was a game I digested later via stats and highlights. Sergio Aguero, it seemed, hadn’t had a single touch in our penalty area and there had only been three shots on target in the entire game. Overall, we’d sacrificed some attacking vigour to keep them at arm’s length and it had worked.
Having reached December without registering a single 1-0 win, we’d now managed two of them in three games. And genuine ones too, setting up solidly but finding a way to get over the line. Dare I say it, the way title winning teams do.
Liverpool finding a ‘new way to win’
As I launched into the Quality Street, I reflected that the 1-0 was now another string to our bow. If Klopp released an album of our title win, there would be plenty of heavy metal 4-1 and 5-1 wins on it but also now a few slower 1-0 ballads.
Making it the perfect three-win Christmas was always going to be tricky given that we kicked off at Sunderland less than 48 hours later. I’d braced myself for possible disappointment but, by 3pm, was thinking this should be three more points against a poor side.
After Sturridge’s opener and again later following Sadio Mane’s go-ahead strike with 18 minutes left, I honestly thought we would kill them off. We didn’t, frustratingly conceding two penalties and settling for a 2-2 draw.
It took a day or so of mumbling disappointment before I could look at the bigger picture. But when I did I worked out that from the last 42 points available we’ve taken 31. The blips have been minimal with just that stupid 4-3 loss at Bournemouth and a few draws in which we’ve been the better side.
Six teams now in the title race?
The problem, of course, has been Chelsea.
Their run of 13 wins out of 13 was freakishly brilliant and meant every point we dropped looked worse than it really was. But after Wednesday’s loss at White Hart Lane they’ve only gained eight points on us during that run of near perfection which lasted three months. The gap of five is not insurmountable.
A pessimistic view from a Liverpool perspective is that with Spurs and Man Utd hitting form, there are now six teams in the race for the top four and we could even miss out on that.
But those 1-0 wins over Everton and Man City shouldn’t be glossed over. They are significant.
Klopp is no one-trick pony who can only win a certain way. We’ve picked up 11 points (three wins and two draws) from five matches against the other sides in the top six so LFC can thrive in these key contests.
After this weekend’s FA Cup tie with Plymouth (a good chance for the squad players to impress Klopp) and the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at Southampton, our Premier League programme resumes with a trip to Old Trafford a week on Sunday.
It’s then home to Chelsea on January 31, home to Spurs on February 11 and home to Arsenal on March 4.
That’s four huge contests in our next seven Premier League games but three of them are at Anfield where we haven’t lost in nearly a year.
It will take a certain aligning of the planets for us to win the title – healthy players, rivals tripping up, a few lucky breaks – but we went into Christmas as 11/2 shots to win it and we’ve come out the other side a point less at 9/2.
Do we need to dip into the transfer market to keep the dream alive? That’s something I’ll address next week but, for now, this season remains dripping with possibility.