Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall reflects on a big month for the Reds and is starting to dream about the Premier League title.
Top of the Premier League and into the last 16 of the Champions League. It’s fair to say that Liverpool fans are rather enjoying December.
We ended November with a 2-1 defeat to PSG, leaving our European hopes in the balance, and looked set for further disappointment in the opening fixture of the new month when deadlocked in our home derby clash against Everton with 90 minutes up.
And then came Divock Origi’s freak injury-time winner and Jurgen’s pitch invasion. And then the fightback from 1-0 down with an hour gone to beat Burnley 3-1. And then the 4-0 romp at Bournemouth with Mo’s hat-trick. And then another famous Champions League night against Napoli at Anfield. That’ll do.
In hindsight, the latter was simple really. The required 1-0 would have been beyond so many past Liverpool sides. Not this one though. A goal from our most prolific striker and a 15th clean sheet in our last 19 home games and that was that. Job done.
Alisson breaking records
Oh, and that Alisson save of course. Wow. Liverpool fans used to sit and daydream about the idea of a goalkeeper who could actually make crucial saves in big matches. And now we have one.
Since his Cruyff-turn-gone-wrong moment at Leicester, the big Brazilian stopper has been superb. If opposing attackers can navigate a path past Virgil Van Dijk, they’ve still got to find a way to beat the bearded one. And most can’t.
One of the plethora of Premier League stats is called “save ratio”, a measure of how many shots on target a goalkeeper keeps out. Last season we were ranked 19th out of 20 in that category with 64%. With Alisson between the sticks, we’re now ranked 1st with 86% – a massive jump.
He’s also breaking records. Individually, he’s the first player to remain unbeaten in his first 16 Premier League games for Liverpool.
And as part of our superb defence – imagine me starting a sentence like that time last year when we were considered an accident waiting to happen – Alisson has helped Liverpool concede just six Premier League goals so far. No side in the history of the top-flight of English football has conceded fewer after 16 games.
And that is why we’re looking down on the rest of the Premier League. Man City and Arsenal have scored more goals than us and Chelsea just one fewer. But check that goals conceded column: Liverpool 6, Man City 9, Chelsea 13, Arsenal 20.
If trawling through old tables and applying three points for a win (yes kids, it used to be just two until 1981), only six teams have ever managed 42 points or more after 16 games of a top-flight season. We are now one of them!
And yet, until the weekend just gone, I have to say that my hopes of ending our long wait for the title were minimal to say the least. After our win at Bournemouth and Man City’s surprise loss at Chelsea? Hmmm, I’ve upgraded them to quietly hopeful.
28.57% chance of Premier League glory
Why does the lid remain fairly tight on what should be shooting bursts of excitement? Those five other teams who had accumulated 42 points or more at this stage were between nine and 12 points clear and all five went on to win the title.
Us? We’re just a single point clear!
So instead of being hot odds-on favourites to win the league, the bookies make us 5/2. To put it another way, they’ve giving us a 28.57% chance of glory. My “quietly hopeful” seems about right.
City’s chances are rated at over 70% so that’s what we’re up against. In a normal season, it would be ours to lose from this position. Instead, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we relinquish our lead this weekend and never get it back.
And yet, some of the other things that would have to go our way are falling into place.
Apart from the prestige of staying in Europe’s top competition and the extra money it brings in, qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League was massive in another way.
I’d actually tried to talk myself into believing that dropping down to the Europa League was no disaster as it could conceivably offer us our best chance of winning a trophy. You know, those shiny silver things we used to win at will before our vast collection stopped in 2011.
But failure against Napoli would have meant playing on Thursdays. Nothing terrible in itself but Europe on Thursdays leads to Premier League games being put back until Sunday. The knock-on effect of that is that City, more often that not, would be playing their weekend game first.
That would mean, every time they won, the pressure would ramp up on us to follow it with three points of our own. As the weeks go by, that can be draining.
Man City playing catch up
Flip it and the dynamic changes. It’s impossible to quantify and Pep may say he didn’t even look at the table but, before they ran out at Stamford Bridge, those City players would have known that they’d been knocked off top spot. So, as a result, did they slightly snatch at a few chances they’d normally have put away?
We have players on the treatment table but Kevin De Bruyne’s injury and the news that David Silva is out for a few weeks after limping off at Stamford Bridge will certainly hurt City too.
Last season, City won 1-0 at Chelsea with De Bruyne lashing home a winner. They’ve covered his absence remarkably well but, as time goes on, it will start to have an impact.
What we have to do is heap more pressure on them, something they just weren’t used to last year. To highlight the contrast, City were 11 points clear after 16 games 12 months ago and were never going to be stopped.
But imagine how they feel now? They’ve been sensational, scoring goals galore, but lose a game and suddenly they’re not even top. Pep has already made a few revelations about Liverpool getting inside his head but it seemed that was only relevant when we actually played them.
Now, he’s thinking how a more mature Liverpool with a rock-hard defensive shell rather than a soft underbelly can ruin his title dream. Pressure does funny things. Even the very best make misjudgements when others threaten them.
‘Jose Mourinho has had our number down the years’
Our focus now turns to City’s neighbours United on Sunday – always a huge game, but simply massive this time. Jose Mourinho has had our number down the years but it’s time we put him in his place.
We’re cuter now. If United come for a 0-0, they’ll be in trouble as we can edge tight games these days. Look at the table and only the bottom four teams have conceded more goals on the road than United so the door is open for us.
Their defence is ours from years gone by. Unreliable, inconsistent and prone to error. If we create the same number of chances that we did against Napoli, probability says we take our share this time.
So, Liverpool, there can be no let-up. We have a lead, albeit a very precarious one, and every day, every week and every month we can keep it the better.
It seems obvious really. If we want to beat City, we must beat United.
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