The clichés are already starting to rear their head and you will probably hear them muttered numerous times over the course of the season, especially if Liverpool back the bold media predictions that they will be the main challengers to Manchester City. The so-called testing period, the outcome of a game demonstrating whether they can challenge for the title and the evident comparison to the other contenders with the word pacesetter bandied around.
The feelgood factor Anfield is definitely there for all to see and it has already been pointed out by different sections of the fanbase, despite at the time of writing, only eight games having been played in the league, there are small margins that in previous years would not have been claimed by Liverpool, be it seeing out a one or more goal advantage comfortably or capitulating and giving up when the luck appeared to be on the opponent’s side. It’s these little things that start to give way to the hope and optimism that this may finally be the year the league title is lifted at Anfield, some twenty-four years since Blackburn did it and twenty-nine since Liverpool themselves last won the league title.
The fact that the first three months of the season are heavily disturbed by three international breaks at even points of four games is a minor frustration that promotes another cliché about the impact on momentum and form as well as leaving supporters on tenterhooks hoping key first team personnel come through these periods injury free. Twelve games in, three international breaks yet the fourth will not take place until the back end of March. By that time the Premier League will more than likely look like something close to the final standings with around thirty-one games played, subject to postponements and fixture clashes due to teams progress in the cups and provide a real barometer of both Liverpool and other challengers title chances when the home straight is about to kick in.
It was said that the period Liverpool have recently faced, bookended by the first and second international breaks, would be the main test for them facing Tottenham, Man City and Chelsea in three of the four Premier League matches with two trips to the capital in that time as well as playing a Carabao Cup tie and two Champions League games – all in twenty-two days. To have come through the league fixtures unscathed, remaining unbeaten and sit joint top in the league is nothing short of a real statement that this could be the closest title race in years. Liverpool have been within minutes of losing their Premier League unbeaten record in recent games, with Daniel Sturridge salvaging a point at his former team Chelsea before Riyad Mahrez failed to convert a late penalty at Anfield that would have stung even more than a normal defeat – City having failed to win at Anfield since 2003 and with two weeks to dwell on a result due to that international break. The defeat in the Carabao Cup may be a blessing in disguise, allowing Liverpool a full week to train between Cardiff at home and a match away at a revitalised Arsenal who may choose to rest several players having drawn League One Blackpool in the 4th round and who, under Unai Emery, are on a surging run having started his reign with back-to-back defeats to the two other sides Liverpool find themselves currently tied at the top of the table with.
The fact that changes to the side have been relatively limited, apart from the Carabao Cup clash, shows a faith in his first choice eleven from Jurgen Klopp, who recently celebrated his third anniversary as the Liverpool boss, and in that time has led the club to three finals, succumbing to defeat on each occasion. But the trophy that has eluded Liverpool’s cabinet for almost thirty years has to be the main focus and with fixtures against three of the current bottom four to come before the start of the next international break as well as a Champions League double header against Red Star Belgrade (who were torn apart 6-1 in their last European game at PSG), you would like to think that realistically Liverpool should be aiming for five wins. A draw at The Emirates shouldn’t be too much to ask for either, although don’t go offering that to Jurgen Klopp who will want to see a return to the pacey play of the front three, well aided by his full backs, in the way that has been lacking in recent matches and has seen some more clichés surface about tiredness and a need for rotation and opportunity for others.
As soon as the next international break arrives, the most testing period for any side aiming to win the title kicks in, with the traditional cliché of Christmas. This year for Liverpool that means eleven matches in just over five weeks from the end of the November international break until the midweek prior to the third round of the FA Cup. Of those eleven fixtures, two are potentially crucial Champions League games against PSG in France and Napoli at Anfield, where a result may be needed depending on the outcome of the games between the French and Italians in their upcoming double header. The fact both of these matches also proceed huge clashes against both Everton and Manchester United makes the run look tastier, although Liverpool do hold home advantage for those league matches.
There is also the small matter of Arsenal and Manchester City in a double header currently scheduled to have only three days between them, although that may change due to TV and those will be the matches where Liverpool will most want to avoid defeat. Failure would probably inspire the media to write off Liverpool and their chances of lifting a Premier League crown, although it would be callous and ill-advised to dismiss our chances based on that. Liverpool suffered defeat to both Chelsea and Man City at a similar period in 2013 but still came agonisingly close to lifting the title aided by a fantastic run in the spring of 2014.
Newcastle United, currently scheduled to visit Anfield on Boxing Day, could prove tricky, although whether Rafael Benitez is still at the helm by that stage, is anybody’s guess as the infighting and off-field issues with owner Mike Ashley and the soap opera of selling or not selling drags on. Liverpool face three away league trips in just over two weeks as well against Burnley, Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and it would definitely be naive to start counting the points up from those matches, in accordance with the clichés of the uncertainty of newly-promoted sides. No doubt if televised, Sky will needlessly remind Liverpool about their South Coast collapse in 2016 where their 3-1 lead descended into a 4-3 defeat. Chillingly it will be just over two years to the day when the sides meet at Dean Court.
It’s pointless speculating over what will happen and who will or will not play as it would be really difficult for a player to perform to the best of their ability for all of those matches. Yet another cliché of players needing to be rotated, rested and question marks aimed at the manager for decisions he may make in personnel, will no doubt be over-analysed by supporters on twitter, some of whom continue to use certain players as scapegoats (even if they are the best player on the pitch in a particular game) to bolster their own agendas. The only certainty is that if Liverpool’s players click and find their feet, it promises to be a fantastic ride for all supporters, whether they are attending the match in person or watching the numerous televised matches around the world that will surely increase as the season takes its many twists and turns. It can also be said that the demand for tickets will continue to increase at a rate that is already seeing supporters who have spent years following the team unable to obtain tickets and touts exploiting the demand offering tickets for ridiculous sums on the black market.