Forget Top Four, I Want More!

I’m a greedy football fan. At the beginning of the season if you offered me fourth place in the Premier League I would have said “yes please” and run away before you had a chance to change your mind. Now, with Liverpool in 4th place, only 4 points behind the league leaders with 11 games to go… Well, now I want more. Greedy bastard that I am. I’m usually cautious when evaluating our chances to succeed, a glass half empty kinda guy, such is the cynicism that has built up in me over the years observing false dawn after false dawn. Being a negative fucker has proved to be quite an effective protection mechanism. But something changed in me after we tore Arsenal a new arse. A new belief kicked in, real optimism, but I kept it in check just in case we fucked it up against Fulham. After we beat Fulham, although we defended like a Pub side, for the first time since we beat Fulham 1-0 in April 2009 (thanks to an injury time winner from Benayoun). I allowed myself to imagine the possibility of winning the league.

After the last round of fixtures, where we beat Swansea and both Everton and Spurs lost their games, it now looks like a top 4 place is ours to throw away. 6 points clear of Spurs with a vastly superior goal difference. It would take a monumental collapse to not get a top 4 place now. There is the possibility of United winning the Champions League which would mean us needing to finish in the top 3 to qualify but there’s very little chance of Moyes conquering Europe.

In terms of points we are closer to the top of the league than we are to 5th place. 4 points off the top with 11 games left. This represents a real chance of winning the league especially considering we play both Chelsea and City at Anfield in April. We are the league’s top scorers with 70 goals, we’ve slaughtered 3 teams in the top 7 and we competed very well in the away games against City and Chelsea. When I look at it from this perspective I say fuck the top 4. I want to win the league! It’s not certain we’ll be in this position again, we could regress next season. On the last 3 occasions we’ve got over 80 points in the Premier League we’ve gone backwards the following season. So let’s go for this!

It’s possible we could do something similar to Wolfsburg in 2008/09 where they won the Bundesliga out of nowhere. Previous 3 seasons they finished 15th, 15th and 5th. Or Lille, who won the French Ligue 1 in 2010-11. Previous seasons they finished 7th, 5th and 4th.

Wolfsburg and Lille show its possible but it has seemed impossible for an English club to win a title against the odds because of the financial power the ‘rich 3’ have in the Premier League. Lille won the French title with 2 points per game. Wolfsburg won the Bundesliga with 2.03 points per game. That sort of points haul hasn’t been enough to win the English Premier League since the 90s.

I’ve had a look at the points the champions have amassed each season from 1989/90 to last season, to see what the average points has been required to win a title. I’ve split the averages into eras. See below.

Average points for the league winners

1990-1999. 79 points.
2000-2009. 88 points.
2010-2013. 86 points.

I think the top sides are too rich and powerful now for the league winners to get less than 80 points. Since the Champions League era and billionaire sugar daddy owners came to town, the top sides just have too much for the rest of the league and consistently compile over 26+ wins a season. This makes it almost impossible to get a shock league title winner. It’s normal for one powerful club to have an off season but it’s unlikely 3 powerful clubs each have seasons where they punch well below their weight. I think at least one of the rich 3 (well, rich 2 as United are out of it) will get 26 wins. Which means I think we will have to get 26 wins as well. To win the title. We have 17 wins so far so that’s 9 more wins needed from 11 games. Is it possible? Yes it is but it’s not probable.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had many debates on what it will take to win the title this season. There is a notion some believe, that the top teams are inconsistent this season therefore giving us a better chance than we would normally have. That’s true to a point. United have been poor and Chelsea and City have dropped points you wouldn’t expect them to. It’s part of the reason we were top of the league at Christmas. However since November both Chelsea and City have been in Championship form.

Chelsea‘s last 12 league games: WDWWWWWDWWDW. 9 wins. 3 draws.
City’s last 12 league games: DWWWWWWWWLDW. 9 wins. 2 draws. 1 loss.

The perception is these teams are dropping points but the reality is that for 3 months they have been excellent and I would expect their form to continue. If they keep up their form of the last 12 games for the rest of the season they’ll likely get 86-88 points.

So for Liverpool to make it interesting we need 9 wins and 2 draws. Or 10 wins and a defeat. 85-86 points. Can it be done? Well we’d have to break a few trends that’s for sure. All season long we haven’t won consecutive away games. Our away results goes like this:

WDWDLDLWLLWDW. Consistent in it’s inconsistency. If we can’t win 2 away games in a row we shouldn’t even be talking about the title. So this has to be rectified. Another trend is the fact we’ve not won more than 4 league games in a row since 2009. None of these things worry me more than our defending though.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 12, 2014: Liverpool's Kolo Toure looks dejected after scoring an own goal against Fulham during the Premiership match at Craven Cottage. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’ve never in my life seen a side with a shambolic defence win the league in England. There has been a lot of debate on our defence (or lack of). There are plenty of interesting stats such as the amount of individual errors we’ve made.

Individual Defensive Errors This Season

Liverpool 33
Arsenal 26
Norwich 23
Stoke 21
Man City 20
Fulham 19
Swansea 18
Spurs 17
Man Utd 15
Everton 13
Southampton 12
West Ham 12
Newcastle 12
Aston Villa 11
Sunderland 10
West Brom 9
Cardiff 9
Chelsea 8
Crystal Palace 6
Hull City 3

So we’re the worse in the league at defensive errors with 33. The culprits are as follows:

Mignolet 5
Gerrard 4
Toure 3
Agger 3
Skrtel 3
Henderson 3
Johnson 2
Sturridge 2
Sakho 2
Jose Enrique 2
Alberto 1
Lucas 1
Moses 1
Suarez 1

Last season we were joint 3rd worse with 36 errors.

So what’s causing the errors? Is it systemic? Are the defenders left too exposed by the rest of theteam. Is it down to Mignolet coming for absolutely nothing? I think these are contributing factors but the over riding factor in my humble opinion is that our defensive players are not very good at defending.

Toure began the season well and then got injured, since he returned from that injury he’s been all over the fucking place and that’s being kind. Against West Brom he was shocking. Skrtel has 3 or 4 good games a season where he looks like Sami Hyypia, most Liverpool fans then think he’s the newLawrenson. I think he’s shit. Put a striker with any kind of physical presence about him and he shits himself. He has a fuck up in him at all times.

Agger looks like his Liverpool career is nearing it’s end sadly. He just doesn’t look confident these days. Nowhere the player he was a few years ago. It looks like Sakho will take his place in the first team as left centre back.

Glen Johnson has been out of sorts for 12 months now and its looking like he will have to take a significant pay cut if he’s to get a new contract.

Cissokho was a stop gap loan signing, he reminds me of Djimi Troare.

Flanno has done well in some games, not so well in others – he’s still learning his trade.

The back 4 don’t get good protection. We currently have Gerrard at DM, he’s done the job alright but there are times where he loses a player making a run and when he does this we’re in trouble. Kolo’sown goal at Fulham being the best example I can think of. Kieran Richardson strolls through the middle of the field. Gerrard is watching the ball on our right side where he cannot affect the play. There are 2 Liverpool players over there not doing much to close the ball down. Richardson takes a casual stroll into the right side of our penalty area and to everyones surprise the ball is played into him and we’re fucked. Richardson plays a poor pass across the six yard box and Kolo slices it into is own net. It’s comedy gold if you’re not a Liverpool fan.

When I think of teams that have won the title I think of their defence and there are top players in their back 4.

United had Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Parker, Neville, Rio, Vidic, Evra, Heinze.
Blackburn: Hendry, LeSaux, Henning Berg, Kenna, Gale
Arsenal: Adams, Keown, Bould, Dixon, Winterburn, Cole, Campbell, Kolo, Lauren.
Chelsea: Terry, Cavalho, Gallas, Cole, Ivanovic, Cahill
City: Kompany, Zabaleta, Kolorov, Clichy, Richards, Lescott

Look at our current back 4 and I don’t see the same sort of quality. Sakho I think will be a top class centre half. He looks the part and has the pedigree but hasn’t done anything yet. The others, well I don’t think many of us would be gutted if they were all sold and replaced in the summer.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2013: Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho in action against Southampton during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think Rodgers is sold on having Gerrard as the DM now so the defenders are going to have to be superb athletes, quick, aggressive, dominant. This won’t be addressed in the next 11 games so it appears Brendan is concentrating on our strengths. Try to score more goals than the opposition. Fuck it.

In the summer Brendan said he wanted to add 20 goals to the team. We scored 71 goals last season. This season we’re on course for 99 goals which is incredible. Our attacking play has been breathtaking. For years I have moaned about a lack of pace up front and on the wings. For a time we had Torres who was very quick but at the time only Babel had pace and he was in and out of the side, began really promising and regressed badly. The other attacking players Riera, Benayoun, Gerrard,Kuyt. Not going to scare anyone with their pace. I spent years being jealous of United who always seemed to have quick players who would murder a side on the counter attack. Chelsea‘s best team had Drogba, Robben and Duff. Now we have our own. Sterling and Sturridge can both dribble at speed while Suarez isn’t super quick but isn’t slow either and is the best player in the league. They all scare the shit out of defenders and we’re now deadly in attack.

The way Suarez, Henderson, Coutinho and Sterling press the ball is something else and when they win it back they are very clever in what they do with it. Often you’ll see a few quick passes, then a sumptuous through ball and Sturridge is rounding the keeper and slotting the ball into the net. It’s become almost routine now. The way Sterling won the ball against Swansea, and delivered that outside of the foot, perfectly weighted pass all along the grass to Sturridge. Lovely. I think it was the Arsenal game or where Coutinho went past 4 players and put Henderson through with the best through ball I’ve seen since Zico to Junior for Brazil in the 1982 World Cup. If Henderson scores that it’s the goal of the season. The Suarez volley that hit the post against Arsenal – my goodness. Another goal of the season contender it would have been. Gerrard’s through ball to Sturridge at Fulham, fucking hell, also one for the scrap book.

If we are to do the improbable and win the league or make it interesting by being in the mix with a few games left I think we’re going to have to rely on the attack continuing to do what its been doing rather than hoping the defence will be sorted. Maybe that’s why Brendan wanted Salah and thenKonoplyanka in January while most fans were screaming for a DM or fullback. Maybe he’s looked at the defense and thought. “This is going to take a long time to sort, but if I get another quality attacking player we can score 100+ goals and really surprise people”.

A minor worry is Suarez goal drought. He’s still playing well but a few months ago we were saying he was the best in the world on form. Everything he hit went in the net. If we get him back to that form then we stand a better chance winning the 9 or 10 games. How do we get him back to that? I think the 2 week break after the Southampton game might do him some good. Could really help us actually – refocus and go full steam in the last 10 games.

We have 3 away games in a row so now would be a good time to sort out the away form. The first one. Southampton, is the most difficult I think. We just don’t seem to do well against teams who are high energy and press us. We also don’t defend well against big physical strikers. Southampton do all of the above. High energy, press and have the big Scouser Lambert up front to give Skrtel nightmares. I’m having nightmares as well.

I think Allen has to play in this game and by the way he was fantastic against Swansea. I’d putCoutinho on the bench. The front 3 are untouchable at the moment. All are playing great. Behind them Allen, Gerrard and Henderson. Then at the back we go with the Key Stone Cops and hope for the best.

I had this game down as a loss in my predictions but now I think we’ll get a draw. 2-2 I think.

The next 2 away games I have 6 points predicted. I am looking forward to giving United a good beating. 4-1. Annihilate them on the counter attack. Watch Old Trafford empty out after 60 minutes.Then the Cardiff game. They are in a right mess and now look a poor side. We’ll scrape this one 3-2.

Can you believe we are in a title race and United are shit? Oh it’s beautiful. I’m loving this season. I’m a happy boy right now. Believe it or not. If we finish anywhere between 1st and 4th I’ll be a very happy boy.

Those of you who read my posts in the comments section will remember me calling out Brendan Rodgers as a fraud, that he talks shit and he’s winging it. I have a big portion of humble pie to eat butits in the freezer. I’ll take it out in May and tuck in with relish, I also have an apology blog to write as well but I’ll shelf it until May. Up to now, Brendan has done a magnificent job and would get my vote for manager of the year if the season ended today. Players such as Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling,Sturridge have improved to a different level. The manager has to get credit for that. The way he handled Suarez from the summer and throughout the season appears to have been very good looking in from the outside. The team is electric to watch and so far has not crumbled under pressure. There is a belief and togetherness, you can see it in the goal celebrations. One of my criticisms was that we were a soft side but I no longer think we’re soft. We have big balls. We just can’t defend. Whether we are 5-0 up or drawing the game we are a shambles at the back so I don’t think its down to character. When we concede we don’t flinch, we just continue pressing forward. It’s great to see. I put that down to the manager taking the pressure off and allowing everyone to just express themselves.

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 19, 2013: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers before the Premiership match against Newcastle United at St. James' Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We have 56 points, this is the most points we have had after 27 games since the 1990-91 season. Yes we have more points now than at this stage in 2008/09. That season though we won 10 and drew 1 of our last 11 games. The only draw being the 4-4 against Arsenal at Anfield. Everyone else was brushed aside.

2008/09 Final 11 Games
Sunderland (h) 2-0 W
Man United (a) 4-1 W
Aston Villa (h) 5-0 W
Fulham (a) 1-0 W
Blackburn (h) 4-0 W
Arsenal (h) 4-4 D
Hull City (a) 3-1 W
Newcastle (h) 3-0 W
West Ham (a) 3-0 W
West Brom (a) 2-0 W
Spurs (h) 3-1 W

10 wins. 1 draw. 34 goals scored. 7 conceded. 7 clean sheets. Wow.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something similar this time around? Just imagine it.