Clusters at Anfield

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Where are we exactly though?

2nd position going into the weekend, and 6 points behind a sickeningly proficient Chelsea would be the short, and wholly accurate answer. Highly likely to be 9 points behind Chelsea before we go into the Merseyside derby on Monday evening.

Come on, be realistic. When was the last time Alan Pardew gave us something vaguely useful? Crystal Palace will rollover and let Chelsea tickle their tummy during the early kick-off on Saturday.

In between losing at Burnley on Saturday 20 August, and losing at Bournemouth on Sunday 4 December, Liverpool were by and large pretty phenomenal. 27 out of a possible 33 points were collected beyond that forgettable afternoon at Turf Moor, as we drained the last of the summer wine.

Television related circumstances might well be playing a part in this, but we shouldn’t really be on the brink of heading off to Goodison Park with a 9-point deficit on the team at the top of the table.

I mean, we’ve lost no more than Chelsea have, while we’ve comfortably outscored them. No one has scored more than Liverpool in the Premier League so far this season. Yet, we’ve conceded almost double the amount of goals Chelsea have. In fact, despite having just put 3 goals past them without reply on Wednesday evening, we’ve still conceded more than Middlesbrough. That’s 17th placed Middlesbrough.
I don’t do stats as a rule.

I’m not dismissive of stats. Stats can prove many points. Stats can be very illuminating. I’m more about the shapes and movements of the game however. The angles, the pretty and often repetitive patterns. History is an often mocked commodity, yet it repeats itself so many times that so much can be learned from it, and many future occurrences can be predicted by keeping a watchful eye on what has passed before. Nothing is new within football. Everything is recycled.

We’ve taken 8 out our last possible 15 points.

A hiccup maybe?

A blip perhaps?

Something more sinister possibly?

To be honest about it, the rampant Liverpool of September hasn’t translated itself through October, November and into December.
We’ve been a different entity since the nights began to draw in.

We kept on winning games, but they became harder earned wins. From winning with style and verve at Stamford Bridge, a victory sandwiched by blasting four past Leicester City and five beyond Hull City, we moved on to a cluster of thumb wrestling encounters against Swansea City, Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion. Winning two and drawing one of those three.

We bridged October and November with a 4-2 win at Crystal Palace and planting 6 past Watford at Anfield. 10 goals scored in two games, offset by some slapdash defending at times which saw us concede 3 goals in repost.

All of which brings us to our last five in the league. Two wins, two draws, one defeat, 10 goals scored, 6 goals conceded and 8 points gained.

Wednesday evening made us all feel that little bit better about ourselves once again, in the wake of that loss at Bournemouth, and the unnecessary draw at home to West Ham United.

Losing to Bournemouth isn’t a crime, but losing in the manner we did is. If losing a game, a game which we twice led by two goals, doesn’t make you angry, then you aren’t paying enough attention and you need to take a long hard look at yourself.
We played well going forward against West Ham, but we defended unacceptably.

We had to work hard to obtain the win against Sunderland, yes, David Moyes Sunderland, in a game which could easily have panned out towards a frustrating goal-less draw.

At Southampton we threw out some impressive shapes, without locating our best punches. We shadow-boxed. It was football completely within the medium of dance. We were never going to score at St Mary’s.

Do we flatter to deceive?

I’ve never really bought into the concept of football being a ‘one game at a time’ concern. It’s all about clusters for me. Clusters of games, clusters of goals, clusters of injuries, clusters of errors, clusters of circumstances.

We’ve had our clusters of injuries. Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge being out simultaneously has certainly effected our points yield across that cluster of five games dissected above.

We’ve had out cluster of errors. Loris Karius has paid the price for his unarguable part in those errors. I feel for him. Goalkeepers are a separate entity from all other footballers. Confidence is transparent for goalkeepers in a manner that isn’t replicated for those who occupy other positions on the pitch. Maybe only a misfiring striker can truly emphasise with the goalkeeping fraternity.

Dropping and swapping of goalkeepers has never gone well for us in the past. See Grobbelaar-James-Hooper 1991-94, James-Friedel 97-99 and Dudek-Kirkland 03-05 for instances of this. The initially dropped keeper feels rejected, then when he is brought back in, is on edge that fresh errors will lead to another loss of place. Simon Mignolet is currently playing James and Dudek, to Karius version of Friedel and Kirkland. Confidence tends to be obliterated for both goalkeepers in such circumstances.

We have clusters of circumstances to come in January. League Cup semi-finals, the dawning of the FA Cup, The Africa Cup of Nations, an on-going title challenge hopefully and the need for a fully fit squad to call upon.

We’ve had our clusters of goals. There will be more of those to come.

We’ll continue to have our clusters of games. We now have a three game cluster to take us to the end of the calendar year. All three of those games are on Merseyside. Two of them at home and one away. When we reach the end of that cluster then we’ll stand at the halfway point of the season. The inward bound stretch will begin from January.

Given that those three games will throw us together with our awkward cousins from across Stanley Park, the forever prickly Stoke City and our first league showdown with Pep Guardiola, then maybe if we are still just the 6 points behind Chelsea come New Years Day we might look at that gap in a more positive light than we do right now.

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