Liverpool: Another Year Another Slip
By Alexi Barnstone
On Thursday morning Liverpool smashed a competitive Watford side 5 - 0 and retained their position at the top of the Premier League table. The result spoke to an impressive outing from one of the best sides in Europe. You can’t argue with the blistering pace and goal scoring threat of the side. Salah, Mane, Firmino, Origi, the man nugget (Shaqiri) - liverpool has incredible depth up front. Furthermore Van Dijk is a monster.
And yet, all this being said, I can’t escape the feeling that Liverpool are going to follow in the steps of a 2014 Gerrard and slip again. In fact if I am being totally honest, I want them to. Here are the reasons why.
Firstly, I simply don’t think they are the best side in English football. Manchester City, the Saudi Money of the English Prem, are inching out Liverpool for the best side in the EPL. Although they sit 1 point behind the leaders at the moment, I stand by this statement. City’s high press is more effective than that of Liverpool, consistently winning them possession up the pitch with forced turnovers. Liverpool have Salah and Mane, but Sane and Sterling are comparable.
Although Liverpool threaten with their insanely quick and creative front three they don’t pose the same tactical threat that the Manchester side does. Guardiola is one of the tactical geniuses of the game, and his side is built in a far more fluid way. Catch De Bruyne playing anywhere across the middle of the park or up top, Bernardo Silva slotting in where needed, and Gabriel Jesus drifting wide if needed. City harbor a degree of versatility that I don’t see in the Liverpool side. Guardiola bends and toils with his squads for every match, making slight altercations where he sees necessary. Klopp plays a consistent 4-3-3. This kind of advantage accentuates toward the back end of the season. When teams have 30 games worth of footage to review and study your team dynamics they can work you out. Klopps game plan is effective, but predictable. Guardiola is 4 chess moves ahead. Liverpool will still win most of their games, their players are brilliant, but I think this tactical difference may be the few points that tip the scale in favour of City.
Secondly, depth at the back. If something manages to injure Van Dijk, maybe a bus or someone with a sledgehammer, then Liverpool are in for it. No matter how many times he self purports, Loveren is not one of the best defenders in the world. Robertson is crucial to Liverpool as well, and there isn’t a back-up available even near par. Maybe as luck will have it they make it through the rest of the year injury free. But weary legs increase the likelihood that someone goes down toward the end of the season.
Thirdly, its Liverpool. They are fighting a tougher mental battle. Manchester City are defending champions, hunting down their competitors to retain a trophy they know they can get. The last one is still fresh in the cabinet. On the other hand Liverpool have a long history of literally slipping up. Gerrard did it best, but there have been plenty of other years. It has been 27 long and arduous years of reaching for the Premier League title and falling short. Dust settling in their trophy cabinet. The pressure is enormous. The fans dread another shortcoming and the club is ready to see its massive financial investments pay dividends. Even from the top spot, it feels like an uphill battle for Liverpool mentally.
But while all these arguments provide the foundational logical for a predicted Liverpool demise, something else fuels this conviction. I want them to fail. I would absolutely love it. Watching Liverpool fans mourn another “so-close” is one of the best reparations I get as an Arsenal fan. It warms my soul to know that my YNWA mates are suffering through this disappointment, even while I watch my own team’s mediocre performances. Nothing makes me happier than arriving at the end of a season, weathering the storm that is a Liverpool fan excitedly ranting about the quality of their team for months, and then basking in their depressed silence as they are relegated to second best yet again.
Call it sadistic, I don’t care. Liverpool are not winning the Premier League. For all the practical reasons that I have mentioned above and because it would be an injustice to the rest of us. Liverpool based schadenfreude is one of the best parts of the beautiful game, and I hope to god that this isn’t the year we don’t get it.