TO PARAPHRASE a Scooby Doo baddie – “If it hadn’t been for those pesky draws we would have won it.”
That’s what it boiled down to last season – draws, 11 of them, cost Liverpool the long-awaited return of the league title to Anfield.
This season – if you believe the knee-jerkers – the challenge from L4 for the Championship is already over. Yes, after eight games.
But amongst the reams of dross published in the last couple of weeks about the Reds there was a shining light, a glimmer of hope. And it came from Jamie Carragher.
While admitting he, and the rest of the Liverpool defence, had not been performing as they should have been in the first few weeks of the season, the Bootle-born defender also had another point to make.
Essentially it was that the three league defeats so far suffered by Rafa Benitez’s men – they don’t matter. And I, for one, agree.
Jamie’s point was that in two seasons (or 76 games) Liverpool have lost just six times. And yet there’s still a space for number 19 in the Anfield trophy room.
In the meantime, the arch enemy 30-odd miles away have won the thing two years running – and lost more games.
So defeats don’t matter – points do. And points-wise the Reds have notched up the same amount as Man United did at this stage last season.
So why are we talking about defeats? Why is the fact no team has won the league after suffering three losses at this stage of the season since 1967 being trotted out over and over again?
Because it suits the agenda of large sections of the media, that’s why. Liverpool in crisis makes for a great story. And, because the Reds have one of the biggest fan bases in the world, it inevitably provokes a reponse, leads to hits for sites, sells newspapers and gets people talking.
In reality there are still some reasons to be cheerful. Not only are two of Liverpool’s toughest away games done and dusted but we are also closer than ever to seeing Alberto Aquilani.
Then there’s the traditional pattern of performance of Benitez’s teams – they are usually stronger in the later stages of the season.
So for now it’s a case of riding the storm, keeping in touch with the leaders and waiting for the purple patch to arrive – because arrive it will.
Nevertheless, you still don’t have to look far to find people calling for the head of Benitez. Yes, after eight games. Yes, after missing out on the title by four points last season.
So this got me thinking – if 15 points from 8 games warrants the sack, what managers would now be sat at home twiddling their thumbs watching Homes Under The Hammer based on previous season’s performances?
Well for a start off Alex Ferguson obviously, because as I’ve mentioned his side had clocked up “just” 15 points at this stage last season, leaving them five points adrift from then (and now) leaders Chelsea.
The season before? Chelsea had just 12 points on the board after eight games with Jose Mourinho having left a month earlier. So no chance of the title then according to the knee-jerk analysis?
Well, no, they didn’t win it. But despite bringing in a new manager, Avram Grant, they finished just two points off top spot.
And in 2006-7 Rafa should have gone then by the criteria of the cretins, having again lost three from eight games but this time only putting 11 points on the board. The final result was third – plus the small matter of a Champions League run all the way to the final. So ultimately unsuccessful but, realistically, not to be sniffed at.
How about 2005-06? Arsene Wenger and Benitez would have been for the high jump that year and further back into history? Well take a look at this table:
‘BIG’ CLUB MANAGERS WITH LESS THAN 15 POINTS AFTER 8 GAMES:
1987-1988: Alex Ferguson (Man Utd) 13, George Graham (Arsenal) 14
1988-1989: Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool) 12; Alex Ferguson (Man Utd) 12; George Graham (Arsenal) 14
1999-2000: Gerard Houllier (Liverpool) 12
2000-2001: Gerrard Houllier (Liverpool) 12
2001-2002: Claudio Ranieri (Chelsea) 14
2002-2003: Alex Ferguson (Man Utd) 14; Claudio Ranieri (Chelsea) 13
2003-2004: Gerard Houllier (Liverpool) 11
2004-2005: Rafa Benitez (Livepool) 13; Alex Ferguson (Man Utd) 13
So Ferguson should have been sacked at least FIVE times (if only) in 87-88, 88-89, 02-03, 04-05 and 08-09. And Dalglish, well he should have gone in 1989 – missing out on the chance to win the title a year later.
The point is, eight games into a 38-game season is no time to be sharpening the knives for a manager, least of all for one that, given trying circumstances off the pitch and a smaller budget than his rivals for wages and transfers, has acheived success and has took the club closer to the title than it has been at any other point in 20 years.
So how is that knee now?
For more from Gareth Roberts, visit his blog, Well Red.