NoFunTitle

Being In a Title Race Is No Fun

Tim Johnston declares his trepidation ahead of this season’s final 10 games.

Is it right that fear is more potent this season, given where we sit in the league and what’s at stake?

Last season, I was one of the few fans to give Rodgers my full backing. A lot of people were sceptical of the “arrogant”, “bull-shitter” from Swansea. No doubt people respected his achievements there, but to appoint someone who has never won a trophy? Many took convincing. I loved it.

I would go around telling everyone at work that Liverpool would finish 2nd and Suarez would win the golden boot. Brendan Rodgers is a genius and Joe Allen is world-class. Jose Enrique is one of the best full-backs in the world and Steven Gerrard is past it. (See, not all crazily optimistic).

And what did we learn from last season? Even in the beginning of 2013, after a pretty poor first half, I stood by these convictions. Liverpool would still finish 2nd.

This then – inevitably –  changed slightly to “Liverpool will qualify for the Champions’ League” and, after a very anxious final ten games where I was committed to watching the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton in the vein hope that they would drop points, we finished 7th.

Despite a real upturn in form with the introduction of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool still lacked the ‘cutting edge’ – maybe the belief – to break into the top 4.

The truth is; football just isn’t any fun when there is pressure to succeed. I will only be content at the end of the season when we have achieved something – be that top 4 or winning the League.

Maybe I’m scared of failure. Maybe I’m scared of not succeeding. I cannot bear the thought of Liverpool not qualifying for the Champions’ League this season at the very least, and maybe that’s why I’m not particularly enjoying myself – even in the wake of comprehensive demolitions of Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and others.  If this was last season, you’d have to put me in a straight-jacket to stop my convulsions of mad, unhinged ecstatic-joy.

So why not this season when we are doing far better than last?

There was, almost literally, zero-pressure last season. Fenway Sports Group had made it absolutely clear that the aim was to “finish as high as possible”. It was a season of transition. Even this season, the aim – the ‘agreement’ between FSG and Rodgers – is to simply “improve” on last year’s position. Top 4 was not actually on the agenda until year 3 of Rodgers’ contract.

The difficulty is that we have now raised expectations so much that failure to reach top 4 – even if we finish in 5th place – will be seen as failure. Not just by the fans but, more importantly, the team itself. How could we possibly recover?

As we go into our last 10 games, the real pressure will start to hit. But, if Liverpool carry on with the way they have dealt with this pressure in ‘the big games’ (Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal, even Man City and Chelsea where we deserved a win and maybe a draw, respectively) then we will find ourselves “right up there”; a phrase being used with increasing frequency as this season has gone on.

So what’s left in the final 10 games? At the time of writing this we are due to play Swansea City in 3 hours’ time – a game that will be very difficult considering their significant improvement under Garry Monk. I’m not totally confident.  *Since this article has now been posted after this match… I TOLD YOU!!!*

We then have Southampton away, a game that should be very difficult but I think we will see a reversal of last year’s result: 3-1 to Liverpool. This season has been about breaking records – not just for Liverpool – and I don’t see why the unexpected should suddenly cease to happen.  *Again, since this article has been posted after the match – ALMOST RIGHT!*

The final 10 fixtures remaining, in terms of away fixtures, are our “winnable” games. I hate this. Any football fan – I don’t care who you are – simply cannot be naïve enough (to borrow a favoured word of Roberto Martinez – sorry) to believe that Manchester United, Cardiff, West Ham, Norwich and Crystal Palace will be walks in the park. Despite West Ham currently sitting in 10th place, it is incredibly tight in the bottom half of the table. All of these fixtures will be tough. Four of these teams are fighting relegation, and Man Utd will always be a tough game because of the history and pride of this fixture – even if they now SUCK.

I do think Norwich will be a “guaranteed 3 points”, if only because Suarez is likely – yes, likely – to score a hat-trick, and they simply do not have enough fire-power to trouble our defence. Unless, of course, Kolo Toure plays, in which case they may not need to worry about that(!)

Our home games are – as usual – pivotal in the push for the title, and maintaining our place in the top 4. Tottenham, Man City and Chelsea still need to come to Anfield. To win these 3 games will put us within a point or two of first-place, if we’re not already there.

So what do we need to finish the season strongly?

All I am asking for is defenders we can defend (and not pass-off as fully-fledged amnesiacs who’ve forgotten how to play football), Full-Backs we can back-fully and for Suarez to score 5,000,000,000,000 goals. I love him (even if I was calling for him to be sold last summer!)

And, with that, I’ve probably just ruined any decent point I’ve had in this article.

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