As Liverpool enter their final two games of the season with it all to play for still, PJ Vaughan looks at how things are delicately in the balance.
The optimism that Liverpool fans felt going into the Chelsea game was infectious. I’m sure many fans had seen Steven Gerrard lift the Premier League trophy in their mind’s eye.
This optimism completed dissipates after the Chelsea defeat. The disappointment of seemingly letting the title slip from our grasp now sits in the pit of our belly, like a stomach influenza that will not leave any time soon.
Throwing it all away
In 1988 probably the greatest ever Liverpool side lost the FA Cup Final, to Cup Final novices Wimbledon. The media were predicting a non contest weeks in advance. The fans and the players would have known there was a match to win. However it’s difficult not to believe your own positive media.
In 1987/88 Liverpool had gone 28 games unbeaten from the start of the season. The league was won before Easter. They probably though they would win every game. It’s almost an impossible job for a manager to keep his players motivated yet grounded when you are a long unbeaten run. While you might want them to be grounded, you don’t want them to play with fear of losing.
Lies, damned lies and Mourinho
Jose Mourinho did everything last week to take the pressure of his own players and put that same pressure firmly on Liverpool players shoulders. Mourinho has peddled the lie that Chelsea are underdogs in the title race all season. The media just accept this.
The media let Mourinho call his own agenda. After the Chelsea v Liverpool game earlier in the season Chelsea could have had three players sent off and gave away a couple of penalties. Mourinho refuted those claims and instead called Luis Suarez a diver and a cheat. The media accepted these lies like they were absolute truths.
Since last Tuesday evening Jose Mourinho talked about putting out the reserves. Most Liverpool fans didn’t believe this but conversely we knew that this match was in the middle of a Champions League semi final. So we hoped that Chelsea would not be too bothered with winning at Anfield. This hope was however misplaced.
Liverpool are always up for the big games especially at Anfield. Liverpool have sometimes struggled getting themselves up for some of the small teams. Liverpool didn’t approach the game in the same way as they did the Manchester City game.
Mourinho won the psychological battle as he convinced the world that Chelsea were small team with limited resources. He stated that Chelsea were stretched to the limit that had little interest in winning at Anfield, as they were out of the title race. We all fell for it on some subconscious level.
What’s the point?
Lots of Liverpool fans believe that Liverpool should have played for a draw on Sunday. However playing for a draw at home is very difficult. In 1989 Liverpool knew a draw or a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal would win them the league.
They sat back and knocked the ball around rarely causing a goal threat. Alarm bells sounded when Arsenal scored a goal but the players knew they could afford a 1-0 defeat.
They never pressed for an equaliser and got hit with a knock out punch in the last minute.
Liverpool played to win on Sunday the problem was the way Chelsea lined up that there was never going to be many goals in the game. It was important that Liverpool scored the first goal on Sunday but it was essential that we did not concede the first goal.
Winning the last two battles could well win the war
Liverpool have come back from losing positions in the past. A number of our cup final wins have being achieved from losing positions. While we are not in a losing position at the minute it feels like as we are as the title is no longer in our hands.
Liverpool can still win the league. However they need to win both games. Like Steven Gerrard said after the Manchester City game we need to go to Crystal Palace and treat them like the best team in the league. In 1989/90 season we beat Palace 9-0 yet lost to them 4-3 in the FA Cup semi final later in the season.
We must also go into the Newcastle United game with the same attitude regardless if they have lost seven games in a row. We must go into that game like if we are playing Manchester United at home. I firmly believe that Manchester City drop their standards when they are playing a poorer team. So hopefully either Aston Villa or West Ham can take points of Manchester City if Everton fail to do so.
I believe if we can evoke the spirit of 2005, the rest of the cards will fall in our favour. Steven Gerrard will still lift the Premier League trophy in a couple of weeks time, even if the vision is not as crystal clear in my minds eye as it was a few short days ago.