That’s three. Hopefully nine more to come before the season’s end. We rode our luck a few times last night against Watford, and once again provided a nervy finish as seems to be becoming the standard. But we claimed a 1-0 win, and that has massively strengthened our top four credentials.
It took a stupendous overhead kick from Emre Can to separate the teams, and at half time I was praying we’d hang on to the victory just so I wouldn’t get the same bitter taste in my mouth I get every time I see Sebastian Coates’ similar wonder goal in our infamous 3-2 loss to QPR five years ago. Alas, I can happily replay Can’s ‘bicey’ to my heart’s content.
Speaking of the old ticker, it was thrust firmly into my mouth in the final minute of the game when Sebastian Prödl volleyed a vicious effort onto the crossbar. Such fine margins, that mean we sit here celebrating a huge victory rather than cursing another Liverpool capitulation when attempting to hang on to a lead against a smaller team. In fairness, we had rattled the same bar ourselves with a sumptuous effort from Adam Lallana in the first half, but to see us come so close to once again throwing points away from a simple ball into the box must have had many a red watching through their fingers.
In a weekend so dominated by diving and the deception of referees, it should come as no surprise that our (quite poor) attempt to win a penalty the Utd/City way didn’t go down as well as our Manchester rivals’ did. Klopp may have to consult Jose Mourinho on how he trains his players so well in that particular art… or else we can just leave that to them, and touch wood that we can rely on referees to provide our penalties the honest way. Elsewhere though, Craig Pawson had a particularly poor evening; actually giving the majority of wrong decisions in our favour, albeit minor ones. A couple of flags were wrongly raised for offside for Watford players, Mignolet should have conceded a corner with what was actually a very good save, and Pawson awarded us a throw-in when he himself had blocked the ball from going out of play. Still, there were no penalties handed to us on a silver platter, so even our rare day of good luck didn’t reward us with another goal to our name.
Simon Mignolet didn’t actually have a lot of other saves to make, but he was notably assured when claiming crosses – even with Troy Deeney’s attempts to make him spill them. The whole defence seemed to breathe easy knowing he was commanding and dominating his box, and it was refreshing to see the Belgian play with such authority.
Emre Can will claim the man of the match accolades, no doubt with his goal of the season contender playing a big part in that. But his all-round game was good too, and he played with a maturity and drive that we desperately need to see more of in him. When it seemed that we were sinking away and had no-one to seize the initiative, he stepped up and demanded the ball and forced the issue. I see the German growing into a very influential player, and the sooner we get his new contract sorted out, the better.
The most recent signee, Dejan Lovren, had a composed game alongside Joel Matip, and it bodes well that he seems to have so quickly put his Crystal Palace nightmare behind him. Our issues in the backline actually came from our full-backs. James Milner had the sort of game we’ve come to expect from him, and whether that is a good thing or not is up for debate. But neither he nor Nathaniel Clyne provided enough going forward, and their poor delivery broke down a lot of our attacks. It may seem overly-critical, but considering how much they find themselves in advanced positions, and how narrow our front three then become, we need them to improve on their end-product, or else defenders will just stand off them and let the crosses come in, expecting an easy block from the first man or a simple take for the goalkeeper.
Our results are remaining inconsistent, but we seem to have added a steel to our game that is helping us grind out some wins; particularly in tricky away games. This means mentally we are developing more confidence in ourselves as a team, and belief that we can make it to the finish line. Granted, we aren’t doing it in a sustainable fashion; as we have one hiccup and all the same questions get raised once again. But we’ll take whatever positives we can call upon for these next three games, and then we can recharge and reassess in the summer. It’s not vintage Liverpool, but if it means we’re playing Champions League football next season, it’s good enough for me.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)