Liverpool fought off a tough challenge from Wolves on Sunday for a perfect end to 2019, and keep their greatest run going in pursuit of the title.
Another day, another win on this odyssey of Liverpool’s for a first league title in 30 years.
It could have been so much easier though.
Wolves were meant to be feeling a bit fatigued in this one, and they were to an extent during the second half, until a late adrenaline rush kicked in as they reached the last few minutes with only a one-goal deficit.
There was tiredness at play as those late chances of theirs were desperately blasted high and wide; there was relief in the stands at Anfield, to go along with the jeers, in welcome of wayward efforts.
We will be facing Wolves once again, in three-and-a-half weeks’ time at Molineux. Expect another difficult assignment.
There is a lot to admire about Wolves. They work hard, they play an attractive style of football and they aren’t a prisoner to fear.
Man City experienced this less than 48 hours before Nuno Espirito Santo brought his team to Anfield.
To be able to beat a Pep Guardiola side, and then give a Jurgen Klopp team a compelling run for its money, within such an obscenely short time span doesn’t come easily.
They should certainly be viewed as a realistic contender for both.
It will be a bonus to Liverpool’s campaign to see the back of Wolves come the tail end of January.
A Battle of Wits
In the build up to this one, much was made of the fact that the two clubs had faced one another at Anfield nine years ago to the very day.
Back in 2010, it was a battle of ‘wits’ between Roy Hodgson and Mick McCarthy, a battle that was won by the no-nonsense Yorkshireman. The scoreline was 1-0.
The 2019 version of the fixture had nothing other than the scoreline in common with the 2010 event.
Different game, different winner; different era, different mindsets. Wolves lost this one, but they are in a better place now than where they were nine years ago.
Both Liverpool and Wolves are lightyears ahead of where they were back in 2010.
It is almost as if they are cryogenically frozen managers, thawed out periodically for one last assignment in defying football’s laws of gravity.
One of the greatest legacies that the Klopp and Guardiola era has so far bestowed upon the English game is how they have inspired certain mid-ranging clubs to think that little more expansively.
Suddenly, to teams like Wolves and Leicester, the glass ceiling of seventh position can be smashed, while the triple-glazed ceiling of fourth now looks vulnerable too.
Expansive and well-run mid-ranging teams are suddenly a match for pragmatic ‘big six’ clubs that have run out of ideas and are sacking managers as often as they send out season-ticket renewals.
Yes, Leicester won the Premier League in 2015/16, but their second coming of purpose, so far, this season, feels like it is more a part of a wider movement than the once-in-a-lifetime event of four seasons ago.
Sheffield United are next up at Anfield, and they are yet another team that has looked at the mountain in front of them without being phased in the slightest.
It is an approach to football that makes them unsettling and dangerous opponents.
An aesthetically pleasing head-to-head in theory, Sunday’s game did well to negotiate a path beyond the omnipresent vagaries of VAR and the poor refereeing of Anthony Taylor.
Taylor will have involuntarily sulked about having his two biggest first-half calls overturned. His response to this was to award next to nothing during the second half.
It made for a game of fine passing and movement, which was surrounded by stubborn anti-refereeing and controversial VAR calls that weren’t controversial at all, if the strict letter of the footballing law is being observed.
Which, of course, it was.
A beautiful Sadio Mane goal, that we were robbed of the opportunity of celebrating properly, settled the outcome of the game. Another minimal offside call then further antagonised the visitors.
Great for Liverpool on this occasion, but continually damaging for football as a whole. This example can be filed in the same bin as Bobby Firmino’s armpit and Mane’s hand.
The offside rule needs re-evaluating. Maybe just go back to the requirement for daylight to be seen between attacking player and defending player, as used to be the case.
Players are fitter and faster than they used to be, so this maybe wouldn’t be the retrograde step it would undoubtedly be accused of being.
It would bring a greater clarity, though.
We have now reached the halfway point of the league season. Nineteen games played, 19 games to go, just two points dropped, 13 points clear at the top with a game in hand.
Desperation point has been reached by rival supporters. Apparently, VAR has been brought in to assist Liverpool in winning a very belated 19th league title.
I suppose by the same rule of thumb, it took the entire restructuring of the league system in English football and the alteration of the back-pass rule in the summer of 1992 for Man United to be able to break their then-26-year league title famine?
Just a thought like.
If—and until we are mathematically uncatchable it does remain an if—we do win the title this season, it won’t be because of VAR, it will be because we are the best team on the face of the planet.
I Understand, I Really Do
Given our contemporary propensity to fumble potential league titles, I can understand the nervousness and reticence of many to the concept of getting carried away with where we have positioned ourselves, as we turn towards the inward half of the campaign.
You would need ice in your veins not to be at least vaguely wary.
Yet we should be able to talk about it.
Yesterday, in an idle pre-match chat outside the ground, one very intelligent Red, who makes his living within football, couldn’t countenance talk of winning the title to such an extent that he had to make his excuses and headed for the turnstiles.
I do fully understand this, especially in those who weren’t around when we were winning league titles in ’70s and ’80s.
However, if you find yourself in these circumstances, take a deep breath and try to enjoy this wonderful Liverpool of ours.
These really are the greatest times of your life.