Painful pointers as why Liverpool are still vulnerable to title bottle-job

Date published: Wednesday 8th January 2020 4:04

Liverpool blowing their chance at winning the Premier League title this season is nigh-on impossible. Right? Not according to a slightly demon-ridden Dave Tindall, who has done some serious number crunching in our latest Red Letter column.

 

Winning. Winning. Winning.

Everywhere I look, Liverpool are winning!

Sunday: Tune into FA Cup to watch expected loss for our reserve team against Everton. Liverpool win. What a goal from Curtis Jones.

Monday: Glance at World Soccer magazine’s awards while waiting for train. Liverpool are voted world Team of the Year; Jurgen Klopp claims Manager of the Year.

Tuesday: Check social media whilst making tea for kids. Sadio Mane voted African Player of the Year.

Wednesday: Look at table. Liverpool top by 13 points after 19 wins out of 20.

This is absurd. These are ridiculous times. Liverpool have had some amazing teams down the years but this lot are taking it to new levels. Levels even Manchester City haven’t hit despite seemingly raising the bar to impossible heights.

So you’d think I’d be swaggering about, boasting to anyone within earshot that this is the season. This is when we end that hard-to-imagine 30-year wait for another title. If only it was that simple…

I’ll explain. When you haven’t had something for 30 years, you are stupid/not human/on happy drugs if you start celebrating it with the season only half over.

If I were a Chelsea or Man City fan, I’d be smoking a celebratory cigar already because I know the script. Recent evidence has shown me that when my team gets in a position like this, they get it done.

I’m old enough to remember our last title but the stronger memories are of 2013/14 when, with three games to go, we were 1/7 with the bookies to end the years of hurt. Steven Gerrard’s slip is still vivid, as is the capitulation from 3-0 up to draw 3-3 at Crystal Palace.

So when people – and, boy, they lurk around every corner – keep trying to wind me up by telling me that this would be the biggest bottle job of all time if Liverpool were to lose it from here…. well, I get wound up. I get defensive. I start introducing caveats and working out potential points tallies.

I’d love to perform a slow-mo cocky GIF nod to camera to reflect this golden position we’re in. Instead, a meme of a bloke twitching and muttering to himself would be more accurate.

Let’s do the numbers then.

 

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As I was instructed when reading books on how to win at poker, always factor in your worst case. Know the boundaries in which disaster lurks. Presume your opponent is sitting on a pair of concealed aces.

In this case, the doomsday scenario is that Leicester and Manchester City win all their remaining games. Of course, both events can’t happen as they’ll play each other but, as of now, Leicester can still get to 96 points and Man City to 95.

Logic says Leicester cannot possibly do that. But logic knows a thing or two about last season when Man City won their final 14 Premier League games to deny us the title by a point. If you can win 14 on the spin, you can win 18, no?

 

In other words, the title is only ours if we whack them over the head with a mathematical sledgehammer and secure a points tally beyond Man City’s limit.

Such a total is 96 – just one less than we took last season (if you’re even more paranoid than me and think Leicester will win every game, we need 97 again!). To get to 96 from our current haul of 58 we require another 38 points from 18 games. Despite what’s gone before, is that really a given? Say we won 10, drew six and lost two. That’s an average of over two points per game (slightly better than a top-four finisher will achieve) but would leave us still potentially vulnerable on 94. Or nine wins, six draws and three defeats, that’s 91. Very vulnerable.

And a final point on the numbers. Draws exist. They are a thing. When folk argue that there’s no way they can see Liverpool losing five games, well, we don’t have to. Three draws = a win and two defeats in terms of points. Draws cost us the title last season; we had seven to City’s two.

If you’re not having my paranoia, it’s worth saying that I have none of these feelings when it comes to the Champions League.

We would have crashed out in the group stage of this year’s tournament with defeat to RB Salzburg last month but I wasn’t pacing the streets in a frenzy of nerves ahead of the game. I was relaxed. Why? Well, partly because we’re a bloody great team! But partly because we’d won it last year. And then previously in 2005. Liverpool have reached four Champions League finals in the last 15 years. That’s a common occurrence not a 30-year drought.

Two final notes and then I really will shut up on the matter.

I work in Leeds. They are flying high in the Championship and are massive odds-on (1/20) to get promotion this season. And yet a huge chunk of their fanbase fear disaster around the corner. That’s not the case with supporters of West Brom, who are level with Leeds on 52 points, nine clear of third. Why? West Brom were in the Premier League a couple of years ago and promotion back to the top flight is familiar to them. Leeds fans haven’t been there since 2003/4. Drought plus a recent episode of blowing it (as Leeds did last year) is an equation that makes you go a bit gaga in the head!

Thankfully, Jurgen Klopp is the world’s most positive man and doesn’t carry any of this negativity. And why would he. He’s taken Liverpool to the third highest points tally in top-flight history, showing not an inch of bottle along the way, and turned us into European and Club world champions.

They have become mentality monsters. I only wish I had.

In one sense, my feelings are strange because, during games, I feel confident we’ll turn any negative position around. Take the Aston Villa match. We were losing until the 87th minute and yet I felt if I kept refreshing my phone enough times an equaliser would arrive. And when it did (nice one Andy), I had this weird faith that a winner would follow. It did (thanks Sadio).

The difference, of course, is that I keep being bombarded with these examples of late Liverpool winners. They become the norm. I expect them to happen. My brain has become attuned to them.

By contrast, the old grey matter struggles to process the idea of certainty about something that last happened in 1990.

 

 

Spurs up next

Right, forget the blur of things that are still too far in the distance as it’s time to concentrate on the immediate task ahead.

Narrowing the focus helps fuel a positive mentality or rather stops negativity creeping its way in. We dismiss it as the oldest cliché in the book but no wonder footballers and other sportspeople forever trot out the line about talking one game at a time.

Sunday’s opponents are Spurs and that means renewing acquaintancies with Jose Mourinho. The Gerrard slip is the standout (painful) memory of that title-wrecking defeat to Chelsea in 2014 but, of course, it was Mourinho’s perverse desire to put Brendan Rodgers in his place that helped make it such an agonising day for Liverpool.

Chelsea couldn’t win the title and had a Champions League semi-final just a few days later so old Jose had every reason to take his foot off the gas. Instead, stopping Liverpool became his overriding obsession and, tactically, it was something of a masterclass.

Mourinho and Klopp: Head-to-head on Sunday

But that was then and this is now. While Rodgers continues to have a terrible record against big managers despite flying high with Leicester, Klopp has lost just two of his 10 head-to-heads against Mourinho teams. In fact, when trawling the Opta stats for Sunday’s game in the flashy new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, how about this: of the 114 managers Mourinho has faced more than twice, only against Ronald Koeman (17%) does he have a worse win ratio than he does against Klopp.

Even Man Utd are above Spurs in the table so what we have to fear? The Jose effect these days seems to wear off quicker than ever and Tottenham have lost four and drawn two of their last nine games in all comps. Harry Kane, who likes scoring against us, is injured and they’ve won just two of their last 12 games without him.

Three more points please. 58 + 3 = 61. Closer and closer. Match by match. All the signs I mentioned at the very start about us winning, winning, winning must surely mean something. Don’t they?

But if I still sound unreasonably cautious and negative despite our record-breaking feats, I’ll leave you with this. While I’m getting antsy about Manchester City clicking into a permanent top gear, a mate of mine, a fellow Red, is genuinely fearful that the outbreak of World War III could deny us.

And, what’s more, that was before it all kicked off between Trump and Iran….

 

By Dave Tindall – he’s on Twitter!

 

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