Liverpool falter at Watford
So that’s it! After 422 days Liverpool’s hugely impressive run is at an end. A shock 3-0 defeat at Vicarage Road by Nigel Pearson’s Watford, who started the day in the midst of a relegation dogfight a whopping 55 points behind the runaway leaders, finally brought the seemingly unstoppable Red juggernaut to a grinding halt with a performance and victory that was as impressive as it was unexpected.
That Liverpool weren’t at their best is undeniable, that Watford played above themselves as they fight for their very Premier League lives unquestionable, but surely this is the magic of the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest League in the World’? The fact that on any given matchday, in theory at least, anyone can beat anyone is how the Premier League has positioned itself as the most-watched sports league in the world.
With Liverpool’s closest pursuers Manchester City having a break from League action for yet another silverware-gathering day out at Wembley, the gap at the top remains a staggering 22 points. The defeat at Watford may have been sandwiched between defeat in Madrid in the Champions League and a further loss at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup, but it is unthinkable for anyone but the most pessimistic of Liverpool fans to suggest that they won’t pick up the 12 points from a remaining 30 they need to secure their first title in three decades.
In the aftermath of the end of their staggering run the driving force behind it, Jürgen Klopp, was understandably defiant saying his charges would “go again”, and that the relief in pressure might be something of a blessing in disguise: “It was clear that at some time we would lose a game. We didn’t wait for it but it was clear that it would happen. Tonight it happened. I see it rather positive. Because from now on we can play free football again. We don’t have to defend or try to get the record we just can try to win football games again.”
For those of us of a Gooner persuasion there was a tangible sense of relief, a vicarious pleasure if you will, that our revered Invincibles continue to stand alone as the only side of the modern era to complete an entire campaign of more than 22 league games (tips hat to Preston North End’s original Invincibles who won an undefeated league and cup double way back in the inaugural league season of 1888-89).
Liverpool’s run may have fallen 5 games short of Arsenal’s overall record of 49 undefeated but they won 3 more games in that span and as a result garnered 1 more point than Arsène Wenger’s side of a decade and a half ago. Barring a complete drop off in form they also remain on course to post the highest top-flight points total in English Football history, if they can win 8 of their remaining 10 games to surpass Manchester City’s total of 100 set in 2017/18.
This weekend sees the Reds return home to host Bournemouth, another team scrapping for their lives in the lower reaches of the table, in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off, surely they couldn’t lose that one as well to make it four in a row and to really set the nerves of the Anfield faithful twitching…could they?
Once again match-going fans are shown their place in the pecking order.
In other news, all eight of this week’s FA Cup Fifth Round games were staged between Monday and Thursday evening simply because the Premier League’s decision to (begrudgingly to say the very least!) create space for a winter break meant that there wasn’t a weekend free on which to play the fixtures.
You can bet your bottom dollar that no consideration was given whatsoever to the followers of: Liverpool, Sheffield United and Newcastle, to name just the three with the most significant travelling distances, who had to travel up and down the country on midweek evenings, at no doubt a not inconsiderable cost, as well as possibly having to take time off work for the ‘privilege’ of being able to follow their side. Still as long as the viewing figures pleased the sponsors and broadcasters who cares about the difficulties endured by the paying live studio audience?
In another shining indictment of exactly where fans rate in the pecking order, Arsenal’s rescheduled away game at Manchester City was announced just seven days before it is due to take place next Wednesday, leaving travelling fans little time to arrange and pay for travel to and from a city where the last direct train for London will leave minutes before the full-time whistle. Football used to be the game of the people now it seems it is more the game of the sponsors and those with a vested commercial interest.
Of course if the daily scaremongering about the potential impact of the coming of the apocalypse, or as it is more familiarly known: Coronavirus, is true to its word we could be facing a situation where we see the completion of the Premier League’s programme of fixtures behind closed doors in empty stadiums; perhaps that might give the powers-that-be a glimpse of what the future would be like if they continue to neglect and ultimately alienate the lifeblood of the game!