How good were Liverpool? I’ll tell you: they were exactly as good as they were back in September through November. Bloody brilliant.
With Mane back, Lallana continuing his inspired form, Wijnaldum immense, and the rest executing Klopp’s irrepressible, high pace, intricate attacking style, the Reds destroyed a Tottenham team who have the best defence in the league. A defence that could have had no complaints if they’d conceded six in the first half alone (albeit Vertonghen and Rose are huge misses).
Spurs were poorly prepared for a crucial game. It was arrogant to think four at the back – especially when two of them aren’t first choice – could contain this Liverpool attack. But no one could have foreseen the dynamic, tough Spurs midfield giving the ball away time after time, allowing the magnificent Wijnaldum to pick passes, Firmino to draw both centre-halves out of position at will, and Mane to get in behind.
More disappointing for this Tottenham fan was the second half. While the team were better at containing their opponents, that was because they turned it into a fight not totally different to ‘The Battle Of The Bridge’. Snide fouls and niggles made it less of a football match and, more worryingly, showed Spurs did not have the belief they could get something out of the game despite the recent memory of coming back from two goals down at Manchester City.
But take nothing away from Liverpool. They rose above it and showed the class we all enjoyed from them earlier this season.
And the best news for them is that Liverpool possess the trump card between now and the end of the season.
The benefit of going out of the cups already is that Liverpool have no distractions and fewer chances to pick up injuries. They have 13 games left this season; no more, no less. Compare with Spurs and Manchester United who face a minimum of 16 matches and anything up to 26.
With a clear week to prepare for every single fixture – a benefit no other club in the top six can claim, Klopp’s men are very well set being only one point behind second. Yes, cups can build momentum and you’d rather be in than out, but it is no coincidence that Liverpool’s only title challenge of recent years and Leicester’s success last season came when those teams were the only ones in the hunt with a single focus.
Chelsea may well be uncatchable, but don’t rule out Liverpool being the team to run them closest, both due to their quality and their schedule.
Dilly Ding, Dilly Done
Talking of Leicester.
Six losses in a row is generally enough to see a manager sacked. Very few survive that these days. Alan Pardew did so earlier this season but was gone three games later. Ranieri is up to five…
The stats are damning. No goals in six consecutive matches, over ten hours since they’ve scored. No team in English professional football has won fewer points in 2017. Just two clean sheets in 18. They are one match off being bottom of the Premier League.
If Leicester are serious about staying in the league – given the transfer window is closed and January signings Ndidi and Wague aren’t having the impact of say a Gabbiadini or Jesus – the only significant change they can make is to relieve their title-winning manager of his duties.
Worth noting that Ranieri’s men are in the opposite situation to Liverpool in that they might have a further 24 games left between now and the end of May. The most any other team in the bottom eight will play will be Boro’s 17, with all the other six teams left purely focusing on the Premier League.
At the risk of repeating myself, what is most remarkable about Leicester City is not that they are being picked apart with embarrassing ease this season – as Swansea did yesterday, dragging City’s backline and midfield out of position and exploiting gaps – but that no team managed to do it to them last year.
N’Golo Kante is a magnificent player, probably the best and most impactful in the Premier League, but aside from him moving on, Leicester are largely an unchanged team. But they are 32 points worse off at this stage. That isn’t purely a one man difference.
Last season they won the title because they weren’t letting in goals. Their goals scored record was barely above average, only just more than West Ham in 7th. Teams didn’t manage to pass the ball quickly enough or get in behind Leicester’s defence, despite it containing the oldest and slowest centre back pairing in the division.
It makes you wonder just how seriously teams were actually trying against Leicester last season.
In some ways, keeping this tanking team in the Premier League given their current form might be an even bigger achievement than closing out the title last season for the Tinkerman.
Swansea have quietly become many football fans’ second team in recent years. Steady improvement, good football, decent support, fan-owned for a while, they’re pretty hard to dislike.
Now with Paul Clement they have one of England’s most exciting coaches. Since coming into a club that was descending as a bit of a rabble, Clement has guided them to four wins in the past six games, only losing to Arsenal and Manchester City.
They’re up to 15th and despite having by far the worst defence in the league, are a clear game ahead of the drop zone.
That’s because they’ve started winning. It sounds obvious but winning then losing is far better than drawing twice. Compare and contrast with the slipping Middlesbrough who “enjoyed” yet another 0-0 draw this weekend and are getting dragged into the mire because they have only gained three points on four occasions all season.
Swansea’s comfortable win over the champions was their seventh of 2016/17 and they’ve scored more goals than Stoke, Southampton, Burnley or Watford, which is what will keep them up.
Clement’s impact is obvious in their play. Having brought in Little Tommy Carroll to buzz around and pick clever passes has got even more out of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s runs into space created by Fernando Llorente.
They’re just better than the teams around them. And Paul Clement is a better coach than his rivals too.
Those years under Carlo Ancelotti (and…ummm…Steve Kean…maybe) served him well and now the apprentice has become a master. Has his time at Europe’s biggest clubs given him what it takes to win a relegation battle? It sure looks that way.
The Best January Signing
It’s Manolo Gabbiadini.
Until Gabriel Jesus plays tonight, anyway.
Liverpool aside, they were the most impressive side in the Premier League this weekend.
Unbeaten in ten. Only two sides have a better defence. Zlatan is so good even when he doesn’t score or assist, he was still the most important player in both his side’s goals.
But they’re still sixth.
Welcome To Social Media In 2017 Moment Of The Week
Black bloke named Jesus set on fire.
PS: Bloody Arsenal. Bloody Wenger. Bloody Sanchez. Bloody Refs. Bloody hell. Again.
Matt is the only member of The Greenfield Post team to have been to an Auto Windscreens Trophy Final, the Malaysian FA Cup Final, trained at Trent Bridge, and watched all nine tiers of the English football league pyramid – which he thinks makes him better than the rest of us.
He supports (not “barracks for”) St Kilda because, like the England football team, the only moment of success in their long history came in 1966. Bloody Poms.