‘Inevitable’ Liverpool are back – Why leaving it late

Liverpool were at it again on Saturday and returned to their inexorable selves to beat Crystal Palace, but does that necessarily have to be a bad thing?

Three games separated meetings with the two Manchester clubs and nine points were required if we wanted anybody to take us seriously.

It was far from pretty at times, but that is exactly what the Reds managed to deliver, and they find themselves just two wins away from topping the table at Christmas for the fourth season in six.

We know better than anyone that that doesn’t necessarily translate to glory in May, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side are starting to show the grit that got them the “mentality monsters” tag.

You could be forgiven for being concerned by how difficult they made it for themselves on Saturday, as they did at home to Fulham a week earlier.

But we are endlessly hit with the cliche that scoring late shows the mark of champions, and being top after 16 games without getting out of second gear shows that we might just be on our way back.


Pleasant surprises

Not many gave Liverpool a prayer in the title conversations back in the summer, perhaps naively, given that we have already demonstrated our ability to bounce back from sub-par campaigns.

Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Man City showed us a clean pair of heels and pipped a late-faltering Arsenal to their third successive league crown in 2022/23, but there is a reason no team have done four in a row.

While there are no prizes for being top in December, the Reds have at least proved that they have the stomach for the fight again – to themselves as much as anyone else.

There was an inescapable sense of inevitability when Wataru Endo fired in the equaliser against Fulham last weekend, the same inevitability we became accustomed to as a winning machine that dropped points just once in the first 27 league games only four years ago.

It returned on Saturday – aided admittedly by Jordan Ayew’s sending-off – when Mohamed Salah joined the exclusive 200 club with a second-half equaliser of his own.

The Premier League hasn’t been plain sailing for any of the contenders or pretenders this season, but quietly, we have made it look easier than most.

Inexplicable VAR blunder and cruel last-gasp own goal at Tottenham aside, the Reds are unbeaten since April and look bulletproof when it comes to setbacks.

Last season, heads persistently dropped and players began to feel sorry for themselves at the mildest of inconveniences.

The belief wasn’t restored until it was too late, but the late surge of form gave us the platform to sparkle and the confidence needed to ensure it wasn’t a standing start.


Inevitability returns

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 9, 2023: Liverpool's match-winning goal-scorer Harvey Elliott celebrates at the final whistle after the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Winning the league at a record-breaking speed in 2019/20 was a display of dominance the club hadn’t mustered before, but it wasn’t without its adversity.

Curtis Jones has since joked that he almost got a kick out of going behind that season because of the challenges it presented and the confidence he had in his team’s ability to turn things around.

Crucially, the teams we were coming up against felt that sense of inevitability too. Having fallen heartbreakingly short with 97 points the season before, the Reds were in no mood for anything to stand in their way.

Liverpool aren’t at that level at the moment, but given the way in which the opening months of the season have unfolded, they might not need to be.

Finishing with 99 points isn’t likely to be required on this occasion, with every other side in the division having already tasted defeat at least twice.


Restored belief

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 9, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While there will be those who rightly contest that the nature of the wins against Fulham and Crystal Palace isn’t particularly sustainable, the importance of the belief gained from showing that it isn’t over until it’s over cannot be overstated.

Being all but dead and buried while having the muscle memory from previous comebacks to call upon is an invaluable asset, and Liverpool have that in abundance.

Harvey Elliott‘s goal was the 17th injury-time winner in the Klopp era, which saw the boss overtake Sir Alex Ferguson’s tally of 16 across his 26 seasons at Old Trafford.

Rival fans used the phrase ‘Fergie time’ as a stick to beat Man United with for their reliance on using the full force of the clock.

In reality, it was a quality which proved fruitful for the Red Devils, who lifted 13 Premier League titles during Ferguson’s tenure.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 9, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Arsenal have kept themselves in the picture with a number of last-gasp winners of their own so far this season, and with the extended periods of injury time we are experiencing, we can expect that to become a theme throughout the top flight.

We all hoped for a straightforward afternoon at Selhurst Park, as we did when Fulham came to Anfield, but snatching the points in those circumstances could be the tonic the players need to continue to back themselves in tricky situations between now and May.

The same goes for us as fans, too. There is simply no better feeling than seeing your team nick games in the dying moments and it allows us to continue to dream whenever our backs are against the wall, to stick with the team when they aren’t quite at it.

It was never going to be easy to win this league and the vast majority didn’t expect us to be in the mix, but getting it done when you are not at your best is exactly what is required to sustain the correct pace for 38 games.

There are 22 cup finals to go, and if we have to keep ticking them off in that sort of fashion, then so be it!

Source link