The nightmare scenario of Liverpool being chased down by Arsenal, the cost of defensive improvements and Sadio Mane’s absence are all in this week’s Red Letter.
The idea of this blog is to write honestly and openly about my thoughts towards LFC.
All reader comments are valued, even those who accuse me of repeatedly changing my mind.
But I make absolutely no apology for that. I’m a fan! Being a fan is all about being put through the emotional ringer and deciding one day we’re brilliant before concluding that we’re hopeless the next.
I’m involved. I care. I’m surrounded by windows that logic goes out of.
The satisfaction scale peaks at pure joy but also visits blind optimism, putting a brave face on, creeping doubt, deep concern and utter despair.
Where am I now as we try and clinch this top four spot? I’ll tell you. The creeping doubts have turned to deep concern and I’m very close to trying to protect myself from utter despair by having a few quid on Arsenal nicking fourth from us.
Liverpool worryingly looking over their shoulder
In my mind, Man City have had their slip-ups but will now kick on to claim third comfortably while Arsenal, like some sinister programmed machine, are inevitably going to time it perfectly so they get their noses in front of us on the line.
The Gunners are ending the season with a sprint; we’re lolling from side to side and wobbling to a standstill. It’s like those horse racing games in run-down, seaside amusement arcades. You think the 50p plastic nag on the outside is clear and about to defy pre-race expectations and then it starts juddering hopelessly while the 10p one whizzes past it.
From the negative viewpoint I now occupy, we’ve been faking it these past few weeks. We got lucky with those wins at Stoke, West Brom and Watford (all could easily have been draws) but our stodgy performances, so lacklustre compared to the crash, bang, wallop, goal-laden wins of early season, leave us there for the taking.
On paper, winning the final two games and clinching top four looks a straightforward task against teams who sit 12th and 19th respectively. But we’ve run out of creative spark at exactly the wrong time. The 0-0 against Southampton was depressingly predictable and we increasingly appear to be running in treacle.
We’ve had too many favours from Arsenal already and, with cruel irony, the man who could have been a Red had he and his wife not wanted the bright lights of London, is going to carry Arsenal over the line. I’m talking about you Alexis Sanchez.
Sanchez still hot as Liverpool’s top Mane watches on
While the Chilean blasted in his 20th Premier League goal of the season in midweek, our most potent weapon was giving his Player of the Season trophy a bittersweet polish. Sadio Mane was fully deserving of the award he collected on Tuesday night but his absence during the run-in has been glaringly obvious.
“Obviously we missed him at the weekend. We can’t just rely on Sadio but he’s been outstanding for us and he gives us something different.” Those were the words of Jordan Henderson but not after the 0-0 with Southampton. He said them following the 5-0 win against Burton back in August!
Yes, it was already apparent after just a few games how important the Senegalese frontman was to this Liverpool team and losing him in the Merseyside derby could, unfortunately, be the turning point in the season and the moment when our Champions League bid received the decisive blow from which it would never really recover.
Defensive improvement has come at a cost
The other obvious factor in the goals drying up – we’ve managed just three in four games – is Klopp deciding that clean sheets and defensive caution aren’t such bad things after all.
They aren’t but they’ve come at a cost.
Our last three goals have been an out-of-the-blue header from a corner against West Brom (Firmino), a superb free-kick against Crystal Palace (Coutinho) and a worldie (Emre Can) at Watford.
In other words, our already falling goal count has only stopped grinding to a complete halt thanks to moments of individual brilliance.
The extra caution has worked well on the road but surely the boss missed a huge trick by not reverting to type and going hell for leather against Southampton.
We knew they’d park the bus so unleashing Lallana and Sturridge instead of the safe midfield three of Can, Lucas and Wijnaldum could have made all the difference. We got a hint of what might have been when the pair came on as (too) late subs.
Time to deliver a Hammer blow to Arsenal
So does Jurgen stick or twist at West Ham? Does he go safety first and try and nick something through a bit of Brazilian or Turkish or Dutch or English or Belgian magic? Or does he put Sturridge up front with Origi, bring Lallana into midfield and stay true to his attacking roots and go for the win.
Arsenal will already have played by then which could influence things. If they drop points at Stoke, then a draw may be okay.
But I fully expect to be cursing loudly at the Arsenal result, just as I was on Wednesday night.
I think we need all these six points as the Gunners have a spring in their step again and a world-class striker to make the difference.
Whatever it takes on Sunday – a dodgy own goal, a lucky deflection, a 95th minute winner, smoke and mirrors, just please let us win.
To fail now would be horrendous. Like Klopp with penalties, I’m not even sure I dare watch.
By Dave Tindall