Liverpool are back to winning ways after overcoming yet another setback. Steven Scragg looks back at the victory over Bournemouth and ahead to Atletico.
Anfield was accused of being a bit nervous on Saturday. It wasn’t nervous though, more contemplative and introspective, perhaps, but not nervous.
And Now You’re Gonna Believe Us
Liverpool are going to win the league.
In fact, as unrealistic as it is, there is now the first set of mathematic permutations which mean Liverpool could be champions before they next kick a Premier League-embossed ball in anger.
This brings with it a weight to carry. A weight of certainty. The finish line is drawing closer and closer, but it still needs to be crossed, at a time when the season is only just starting for some teams.
Norwich City, West Ham United, Watford and Bournemouth. Not one of these games could be classed as having been easy. There has been a common denominator to them, however: Each one has been against a team locked within a very competitive relegation battle.
Desperation is starting to kick in for many teams and we are reaching the stage of the campaign when superhuman feats can and will happen.
It won’t just be a phenomenon for Liverpool to navigate, but we have now entered the phase of the season where your football coupon will be let down on a weekly basis, by a result you’d have put your house on.
Hopes and Fears
In some respects, it will be a lot easier when we make the trip across Stanley Park, to face Everton a week on Monday. A team that is in a hopeful frame of mind, rather than a fearful one.
The field continues to narrow. With this win against Bournemouth, Leicester City can no longer win the title. We are now officially involved in a two-horse race, except Manchester City are riding a sky blue, spray-painted sheep.
It isn’t easy being as far ahead as Liverpool currently are, while maintaining the levels of momentum and relentlessness that have put them into the position they find themselves.
With inevitability, comes distraction. Tunnel vision is a valuable thing, but when you get closer to the end of the tunnel the light becomes brighter and it is only natural to take a glance at the bigger picture, and to even become unsettled by it.
Within this theme, Jurgen Klopp has stated that confidence isn’t something you can keep in your pocket. It is something that fluctuates. Sometimes it is up, and at other times it is down. Nobody is immune to dips in confidence.
Saturday was another oddity of a game.
We started well enough, only for Bournemouth to score the first time they seriously ventured forward, and even then there was a sense of the underhand nature to the goal. A shove, on a Joe Gomez who should have been that little more commanding, that either went undetected or simply not sympathised over, by the docile officials.
Not long afterwards, Adrian continued his mixed week, as he pushed Nathan Ake’s header up onto the top of his crossbar.
By half time, we had crafted two goals of our own and held the lead, the first partly scored in spite of ourselves by the excellent Mohamed Salah, the second coolly finished by Sadio Mane after Virgil van Dijk had intervened in the centre circle.
The second half brought a concoction of missed chances, scares and a touch of anxiety. Mane struck the post, James Milner produced his goal-line heroics and Bobby Firmino really should have eased the collective red shoulders, with a couple of minutes remaining.
Milner was crucial to this win, not only in how he hooked that goalbound effort away, but in his personality play too. Jordan Henderson’s absence has been felt in recent games, something which is down to his personality play.
As good as he is, we should be able to function without the movement, positional sense and passing of a player like Henderson.
We have other midfielders of compelling purpose, midfielders that can do fine individual and collective jobs for the team, but Henderson, like Milner, brings a big personality to the pitch. They are driven beyond belief; they bring an unquenchable determination to Liverpool.
When you take Henderson and Milner out of the team, then part of the spine is missing. It is no coincidence, that we labour far more in games when the midfield doesn’t contain either Henderson or Milner.
While Milner was operating at left-back on Saturday, he still had a very clear influence upon the game. There is footage knocking around social media of his pre-match pep talk, as he and the team did the on-pitch warm-up session.
Personality is infectious; it can transmit from one individual to his team-mates and from there, into the stands and into those supporters who have clicked through the turnstiles.
This is the part of Henderson that gets lost within the translation of how important he is to Liverpool, and those who doubt it.
Henderson is set to return on Wednesday, against Atletico Madrid, with the trip to Everton sat five days later. Two games where personality will be everything.
Thanks to our win and Man City‘s Sunday defeat, it’s now just six points to go.