I have to say, it was an interesting, if not fun, weekend for English footy. The FA Cup was overflowing with pixie dust as giant-killers Barnsley put Chelsea to the sword in front of their home fans, the Footy Gods conspired against United to see Pompey through and even the Bluebirds got in on the action by walking away from the Riverside with a Premiership scalp.
Back in league action, with their rivals busy on cup duty, Arsenal had a chance to solidify their slim lead in the league, but stumbled away from Wigan with just one point (sitting at 66 points). So, now with a game-in-hand, second-placed United only sit two points behind the Gunners (I suppose I could mention Chelsea has two games-in-hand on Arsenal whose full allotment would bring them within two points of the Londoners).
The run-in to the championship will be worth watching. As Jim Ross would say, business is about to pick up.
Yet, all the way back in fourth place, Liverpool have been taking care of business, re-staking our claim for Champions League football (otherwise known as ‘The Bare Minimum’). As alluded to yesterday, the team has been on a good run, picking up 12 straight points from their last four league matches and taking lead (on goal difference) in the qualification battle over the Bitters. Yet, we still sit ten points behind Wenger’s leaders (11 if one assumes United wins their game-in-hand and takes over the pole position).
We all know why we’re out of the title race. More than anything, the final nails in Liverpool’s league title coffin were the woeful string of results after Boxing Day. They included:
December 30th — Scoreless draw at City.
January 2nd — The Titus Bramble Incident which gave Wigan a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
January 12th — 1-1 draw at ‘Boro.
January 21st — Another lead pissed away late for a draw at Anfield, 2-2 with Villa.
Janurary 30th — A 1-0 loss at West Ham.
Now, let’s say the City result was fair. Onto the Wigan result… Quite frankly, the only goal Titus Bramble should be scoring on is his own. That was a freak accident, an apparent rift in the space-time continuum. Liverpool should (I know, it’s the most dangerous word in the English language, but for the sake of argument…) have taken the lion’s share of points from that one. I’ll give ‘Boro their deserved point as they scored first, but the Villa draw was inexcusable. Liverpool sat on top of them for most of the game and simply crapped all their good work away with silly miscues. That also should have been a win. And, frankly, Liverpool should not be losing to West Ham. A draw would be disappointing, let alone a loss.
So, had Liverpool not fallen asleep in that month’s span, they very well could be looking at seven more points (an extra two from Wigan, two from Villa and three from West Ham). That would put Liverpool at 63 points and in third place. Granted, they’d be right back in fourth if Chelsea won their respective games-in-hand, but we’d still be in with a shout. This is what I find frustrating now that the leaders have been dropping points like spare change over the last six matches (Arsenal: three straight draws; United: a draw and a loss; Chelsea: two draws).
I know it’s a borderline silly exercise and that any team’s fan could technically do it, but Liverpool really weren’t done for at Christmas as most pundits made it seem. While the reality of the situation is that we’re well out of the title, looking back at our spotty form with crystal clear 20/20 vision, this ‘What If’ scenario suggests to me that Liverpool aren’t incapable of mounting a serious title challenge with the team it has. Surely, a few additions are needed, as well as some serious consistency (enter your own ‘rotation’ argument here), but my point is that no single digit lead is insurmountable as not everybody is going to handle all their business perfectly and win out from January/Februrary on…
Maybe we’re not as far off from the prize and we think or feel we are…
Just something to chew on.