Back Being the Underdogs

The last couple of months have been incredibly frustrating at times for supporters of Liverpool Football Club. After all, on December 30th the lead over Manchester City at the top of the table was a season high 7 points which has now been whittled down slowly but surely to actually become a one point deficit. There have been widespread misguided reports that Liverpool have already somehow “bottled” the league. These thoughts could not be more ludicrous but it does give us a good reason to analyze where we stand at this current moment in time. Without even attempting to explain the semantics behind what “bottling it” even means, I think it is fair to say it has been a disappointing 2019 for the club to date but far from catastrophic. This is after all still a team that has only lost one league game all season, and even that was by the smallest of margins at the Etihad to an outrageously good Manchester City team.
Image result for manchester city liverpool goal line technology
What has been more frustrating for me as a supporter has been how people are trying to lessen the achievements of this Liverpool side by not putting this season in context with essentially any other season during the Premier League era. Liverpool have accumulated 70 points after 29 games and conceded just 15 goals and are only one point behind one of the greatest sides English football has ever seen. With 9 games remaining the Reds could theoretically pick up 27 more points which would leave them on 97 points. This massive total would be enough to win the title any year except last season when City broke the previously unreachable century threshold. However, even if we are a tad more conservative and say Liverpool win 6, draw 2 and lose 1 of their final 9 games, that would still allow them to hit the 90 point barrier. That point total would have been enough to win 9 of the last 12 titles (10 if you count 2008-2009 where Manchester United also hit 90). What I am trying to say is the standard that Jurgen Klopp’s men are setting this year is incredibly high no matter what way you look at it. However with that level of performance comes a pressure that isn’t always easy to deal with. This is especially true when there has been such a long wait for a league title. The players had to feel the nerves, I know the supporters certainly have. If it wasn’t for the juggernaut that is Manchester City, we would have a sizable advantage over our rivals and that is easy to forget. While of course, football is not a game of what ifs, and Manchester City are a very real and intimidating rival who we will need to overcome to end 29 years of hurt. They have already walked the walk in picking up 100 points a year ago, and thankfully for us they cannot reach that daunting landmark again (only 98 points possible this year!) The pressure for the Citizens will actually more likely come from the external force of the Champions League. The wounds of being ousted in such comprehensive fashion by Liverpool a year ago remain fresh and incredibly painful. This is a team that has been assembled to win Europe’s biggest prize. Pep Guardiola is an incredible manager but even he has to be feeling the pressure of having not won the Champions League since 2011 when he was with Barcelona. He couldn’t manage it with a top class Bayern Munich side and has fallen short with City so far. The further they go in the competition the more the focus would have to fall on the European Cup. This is a particular situation that could become advantageous for Liverpool in many ways. To start with, it is simply an issue of fatigue. City have a deep squad but they have been playing much more football than Liverpool since January. The extended breaks have left us at time looking a little lethargic but I can assure you those rest periods will pay off in the next couple of months. The next is a matter of focus. With the big games coming in thick and fast for City it will be extremely hard for them to balance playing both league and European fixtures with the same level of intensity that is so demanded by Guardiola. This would be especially difficult once the quarter finals of the Champions League hit where they will invariably face a tougher test than Schalke 04. Imagine even that they drew their bitter rivals Manchester United in the next round, and the emotional toll of playing them three times in a matter of weeks would take on the team. Now I am well aware that this fixture congestion could fall our way as well but there are two reasons why I feel it hit would City harder. Firstly would be the aforementioned accumulation of games which has already befallen City. Meanwhile the Reds had a couple of relaxing trips away recharging the batteries. Secondly, no matter what any of the players say deep down the priority is to win the league whereas for City the opposite is almost certainly true. That added pressure on City to stay competitive on both fronts will be a enormous challenge. Therefore, it is clear that we should be hoping City keep progressing in the Champions League and draw as tough an opponent as possible. For the past couple of months, the spotlight has been on Liverpool but losing that league lead for the first time in quite a while may actually benefit the Reds in taking some of the intense pressure away. Despite the 2014 campaign being another famous “bottle” job, Liverpool were actually not really even in contention until the business end of the season having gone a magnificent run after Christmas. A reason they could go on such a streak is because the pressure wasn’t quite as intense as they really only entered the title race in the final furlong. Back then, the pressure did indeed hit during the Chelsea game where Brendan Rodgers certainly got his tactics wrong which cost us more than an unfortunate slip ever did. All of a sudden though we have become the chasers again. We are the plucky underdog and we will be relentless in pursuing City until the very last kick in May. These last two months will have taught the players a lot. They have see what the pressure of a title run in is like and how to handle it. I hope that by losing that lead albeit by just a solitary point should assist the team in removing some of the expectations and in turn get back to focusing on what they do best. Most importantly though, no matter what happens I am proud of what this team has already achieved this season. I hope we can all appreciate what we have in front of us and get behind the lads for the big run in… Bring it on…

Ronan O'Rourke

Irish/Belgian. Lifelong Liverpool fan and eternal optimist. Always been a firm believer in the Kloppolution.

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