There’s a proverbial phrase about a glass that’s half-full of water. In the classic construction, it suggests that the optimist considers the glass to be half-full, while the pessimist considers it to be half-empty. (Engineer: “The glass is too big.”) So there are at least two ways that one can look at yesterday’s draw with Spurs. You can think that we’re still in the title race, which we are, but now farther behind than we were, with Man City having clobbered Newcastle today, which we are. You can think about the draws and the losses in the league this season that, becoming wins, would’ve given us the points to not be concerned about winning every game down the stretch. But the past is the past. We can’t change it. All we can do is deal with what happens now. Back in 2019, we could think that it was 11mm of a ball that didn’t make it past the line at the Etihad that cost us the one point that we could’ve used to later get the lead over City. But it didn’t, so we didn’t. Just like then, we’re now looking at a Champions League final in three weeks that City won’t be playing. We’re also coming up to an FA Cup final this coming weekend that City also won’t be playing. So the question you end up asking yourself is: What’s more important? The league or the other silverware that we can wrangle, including the biggest prize in Europe (if you ask most players)?
There are two ways of looking at those, too. Some people consider the league to be the highest calling because it’s a measure of your success and strength throughout a 38-game season, whereas the cup tournaments are knockouts, which last a total of 13 games at the longest (CL), if you reach the final. In the NCAA basketball tournament, the stories about the teams that “got hot” late in the season and made their way to the Final Four or the title game or even won that title, beating other, “more deserving” teams along the way are legendary. Were many of those teams who actually lifted the trophy the “best” teams of the year? Probably not. But they did what they had to do to win and now they have the winners’ medals to show for it. The winners of the Premier League will also have medals to hang around their necks. Which one means more? Again, most players in Europe dream of winning the Champions League. The tension of a knockout tournament is almost always greater than that of the nine-month-long grind of the league. That’s why those “European nights at Anfield” are legendary, compared to the “regular Premier League nights at Anfield.” But isn’t the tension of a title race also like a knockout tournament. Won’t there be a similar level of satisfaction and elation if we come in on the last day with a chance to win it all, just like a cup final?
But you could also shrug your shoulders at all of that and suggest that the glory is in watching the squad play and we’ve gotten more play this season than we have in 41 years, as we’re going to match our own record for number of matches played in a season. We’ve been able to see the boys do some great things and will do so five more times before the end of the season, including for two more trophies, no matter what happens in the league. If you want to get specific and look at matches against the other “top 6” sides, we’ve gone 4-6-0. Yes, that’s 6 draws, but it also means we’re undefeated against them this season, playing our way. And for many, including Jürgen Klopp, the play is the thing. He was rather pointed in the post-game press conference about the style of play that Antonio Conté chose to exercise at Anfield. He doesn’t appreciate the bunkering in/parking the bus/anti-football approach because Jürgen has always felt that football is entertainment for the community and if all you ever do is try to stop the other team from playing football, then you’re not entertaining. You’re just point scrabbling. As most of you know, I agree with Jürgen wholeheartedly on this issue. Part of the dreariness of the league is having to play the Burnleys and the Evertons and the Watfords who don’t actually want to come out and play, but would rather pack their own box and hope to squeeze a point out of the match, much like Tottenham did yesterday.
The argument in their favor is usually: “But what should they do?!!!” My answer is simple: Play the game. “But then they’ll lose for sure!” If that’s your attitude, then you’ll almost certainly lose. But our manager is the perfect counterpoint to that perspective. From his first job at second-division Mainz with its miniscule resources to Dortmund constantly striving against the monolith that is Bayern Munich and then to Liverpool who were completely outmanned by Chelsea, Man United, City, and even Arsenal and Tottenham when he arrived, he has always played the same. Sometimes we lost. Sometimes we won. In the last four years, we’ve won a lot more often, but the attitude remains the same. Football is entertainment for the people. Football is for the people. You cannot imagine a more Shankly-esque idea than that. It is why Jürgen Norbert Klopp is the perfect manager for our club and the city which shares its name. Even if the risk is greater, the idea is that the players will go forth as believers; in themselves, in their strategy, in the fans that are behind them, in the shirts that they wear. It is the very essence of playing to win, even if the odds are against you or playing for the draw might be the “strategic” (the English would say “cynical”) choice. Playing not to lose is not in the character of Liverpool Football Club or its manager or its supporters. In that respect, it encourages every Red to be an optimist. The season’s not over and there’s still a lot of football to play.
Liverpool 1 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur
One thing that rankles me is that everyone talks about how a draw was “fair.” Look at that diagram. It’s absurd. This is a “top 6” team? You had Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son barely going past the top of the own box and you think a draw is “fair” because one squad was told to not play football and the other one spent the whole day trying to encourage them to do so? Come on. People excoriated Villareal for doing the same thing and losing ignominiously and, then, when we got to la Cerámica, they jumped out to a 2-0 lead against us by- stop me if you’ve heard this before –playing football. Clearly, they had the offensive talent to create a threat. Kane and Son showed exactly that with the brilliant play that gave them the lead. But, because Conté was so concerned about losing, they sat back and smothered the game so they could get a point. And, hey, with that great point they’re now 4 points behind Arsenal for fourth place. Who knows? If they’d actually tried to win the game, maybe they’d be within a game of actually overtaking them during the North London derby this Thursday. Crazier shit has happened (see: The Bernabeu, last Wednesday.) I mean, seriously, look at this:
There’s an advanced stat known as “field tilt”, in which possession is only measured in the offensive third for both teams, showing how often one was on offense and the other on defense. Yesterday, it was 81.4% for Liverpool. That’s a training exercise. It was also hilarious that the most crucial defender in the half-dozen moves forward that Spurs did have was, in fact, Trent Alexander-Arnold (TRENT CAN’T DEFEND!!!) Another of the guys leading that tilting our way was our newest player:
En fuego. It’s mildly hilarious how good our recruiting is. The waves of envy on r/soccer are neverending, to the point where they’ve simply become outright admiration by most posters. And, just think, even with The Wizard (Michael Edwards) departing this summer, Julian Ward is still here, as is all of our technical and scouting staff and, of course, Jürgen. That’s probably why one of their less characteristic choices has also panned out spectacularly:
I mean… yeah. What else can be said? Maestro at work, yo. The insane thing is that this squad is largely staying together for next season and they’re still adding reinforcements to it (like Fabio Carvalho.) You think this year was great, going the distance in every competition? Doesn’t look like we’ll be slowing down any time soon, especially since players like Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott now have another year under their belts of on-field experience and knowledge of the system. Jürgen said he wanted to extend his contract to build a “dynasty.” Even if we don’t win the league this year, it means we’re top contenders for the next several and that’s something we’ve been able to say for the past three or four years, but not for many years before that.
So, yes, the reason it took me a while to write this one had nothing to do with the day job or other obligations. I got home from Magee’s with plenty of time to sit down and churn it out. But I was disappointed like a lot of you were with the result yesterday and I wanted to take a step back and just appreciate what we have and what can still happen in every competition that we’re involved in. No, I didn’t want to end up three points (and, now, four goals) behind City instead of one. It does mean there’s going to have to be a lot of good fortune coming our way in order to wrest the league title back from them (and, oh, was it sweet reading all of the Spurs Redditors complaining about how Luís’ goal was an example of how Liverpool “always gets lucky.” Yeah. That’s it. That’s all it is. Luck. For six years now. Luckiest damn team in the world, I tellya.) But that’s how these things go sometimes. We’re going to win our eighth FA Cup this weekend. Then we’re going to win our seventh European Cup two weeks after that. If we don’t get the fabled quadruple, well, I guess it’s something to look forward to next year.
Because we’re still in so many competitions, our schedule remains insane, so we’re on Tuesday at Villa Park against Stevie G. As every network on earth will doubtlessly remind you, our last trip to Birmingham was unusual. Let’s keep it that way. Then, more Anfield South. The tradition fairly drips from the rafters and all that. Let’s think of something more exciting: