Liverpool go into the festive fixtures six points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea, but the euphoria of the derby win at Everton means Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp must never be written off, writes Dave Tindall.
Sadio Mane you little beauty!
After 94 minutes of hardly the most inspiring Merseyside derby, the old grey matter could have been forgiven for going into ‘sleep’ mode. But it’s amazing how quickly the brain processes stuff.
In truth, the goal which stemmed from Daniel Sturridge’s shot hitting the post, allowing Mane to prod home Liverpool’s dramatic winner, happened in a flash.
But there was plenty going on in my head over those couple of seconds as somehow it seemed to unravel in slow motion.
Here’s the replay of what I was thinking:
Okay, Daniel Sturridge has got the ball somewhere near goal but he’s looked a bit out of sorts since he came on. I’m not getting my hopes up…
He’s trying to work space for a shot but, to be honest, he looks a bit slow and lacking zip. The defender will probably get a block in…
Oh, he’s got a shot off…
Damn, he’s scuffed it horribly. Never mind, still another four minutes of added time to play. Looks as if it’s going to dribble wide…
Hang on, Robles looks concerned. Sh*t, it’s hit the post. How did that happen? Looked wide all the way to me…
It’s rebounded back towards the centre of goal. Darn it, they’ve got two defenders nearer to the ball than Mane…
Mane’s quick though isn’t he. My god, he’s going to get there first. He has!…
Yep, that potent cocktail of derby, last-gasp winner, built-up frustrations and the absolute need to finish the night six points behind Chelsea instead of eight triggered my biggest yell of the season by some distance.
Relief and elation rolled into one.
Opinion seems split on whether Liverpool deserved it. But 68% possession to 32%, 11 shots to 6, 4 shots on target to 1, 6 corners to 1. It’s not the hardest argument to make.
Moreover, after Everton’s frenetic opening 25 minutes when right-back Seamus Coleman was bombing forward at will and our back-line had to hold firm, we gradually wrestled control.
The second half was basically a question of whether we would score and win or have to settle for a 0-0 as their attacking threat had become non-existent.
A rare 1-0 victory for Liverpool
I think when the clock hit 80 minutes I started preparing mentally for the loss of two points. The usual sort of doubts-creeping-in stuff about us not being clinical enough and thinking that Chelsea would have won 1-0 and that’s the difference between them and us.
Another 0-0 would have been a massive kick on the ankle (not as bad as Ross Barkley’s on Jordan Henderson) as it represented a third recent example of such a scoreline in a game we should have won.
We were clearly the better team in the goalless draw against Manchester United but were denied by a David de Gea wondersave while Southampton didn’t even have a shot on target against us in the 0-0 stalemate at St Mary’s.
It’s no good being the Premier League’s leading scorers if we keep throwing in blanks. Better to score two every game than alternate between fours and zeros.
But all those dark thoughts were wiped out in that dramatic ending. Finally we had won a close game, something Chelsea seem to be masters at. In fact, this was our first 1-0 win in the whole of 2016; Chelsea, by contrast, have already had three single goal victories this month!
Season so far exceeding Liverpool’s expectations
For Liverpool supporters, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we finished behind West Ham and Southampton last season. I know the cups were exciting but eighth in the Premier League was way down on where we should be.
To be in second place going into Christmas is probably above most fans’ pre-season expectations and testament to what Jurgen Klopp has already achieved. Instead of ‘hopefully being in with a shout of a Champions League spot’, talk about landing the biggest prize isn’t stupid or unrealistic.
Yes, like every team, we can still slip up but what’s most impressive about this Liverpool side is how it can learn quickly and find a solution.
Klopp has sent a side into battle 21 times this season (all comps) and come out victorious in 15 of them. Our longest stretch without a win is two games. Every time we’ve drawn, we’ve won the next match; the two defeats have been followed by a win and a draw.
To pick up maximum points from away matches at Middlesbrough and Everton in the wake of the home draw with West Ham and capitulation at Bournemouth is impressive – especially when many pundits were sharpening their pencils in preparation for ‘it’s all gone wrong at Liverpool’ stories.
Catching Chelsea a tall order for Liverpool?
Making up six points on the machine that is Chelsea seems a very tall order but take note that 10 of our 17 Premier League games this season have been played away from home, the anomaly due to switching the Burnley match to Turf Moor while our new stand was being completed.
If I’m honest, I can’t argue with the odds. Chelsea are 8/11 favourites and we are 11/2. In other words, if this current scenario (us six points back at Christmas) was played out 13 times, they’d expect us to triumph just twice.
The games come thick and fast now and we have Stoke at home (Dec 27th), Man City at home (Dec 31st) and Sunderland away (Jan 2) before attention turns to the cups.
In that same period, Chelsea, who we play at Anfield on January 31st, have home games against Bournemouth and Stoke before a trip to Spurs.
Mane will be missed – but there’s no need to despair
Derby hero Mane will fly out to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations the day after the Sunderland match and could be away for seven games. If Senegal go out in the quarter-finals, he’ll be back for the Chelsea showdown.
He’s been a key man for us this season and will obviously be missed but his absence looks set to coincide with Philippe Coutinho’s return so no need for despair.
With Sturridge making his way back, the attacking options are opening up again and the victory at Goodison has very much kept this season’s feelgood factor alive.
As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, there’s still plenty of hope that the big present Liverpool fans have craved since 1990 can still be delivered.