By Simon Meakin
Simon Meakin returns to mull over a momentous January, which puts Liverpool in pole position for their first league title in 30 years. He reflects on the tussles with United, Wolves and West Ham and looks forward to this weekends home clash with Southampton, with a few customary detours along the way.
This pretty much feels like it. Salah’s last minute goal against Manchester United seemed to unleash something in the Anfield crowd, who finally seemed to believe that the title is coming home after thirty long years. I’m not sure I was quite there myself at that stage. The crucial point for me came a few days later in the cold and dark of Molineux with the mist rolling in from the stands.
To be frank, we were on the ropes and taking a bit of a beating at times during the second half. I had the feeling that our unbeaten run was under more threat than at any other point during the season so far. Yes we were never actually losing at any point, unlike the games at Old Trafford and Villa Park, but the dynamic in those games seemed different as we were chasing the game and I always felt we could get something. This time I wasn’t feeling at all confident about us getting back off the canvas had we gone behind.
But we managed to not only survive but, thanks to Bobby’s late goal, even to steal away into the mist with all three points like a Will ‘O’ The Wisp. I’m thinking more of the strange mystical light of folklore rather than the Kenneth Williams version constantly being menaced by Evil Edna the big square angry telly, just after Grange Hill finished. To be clear (after a quick Google) I’ve just discovered that Disney remade Will ‘O’ the Wisp a few years ago and turned Evil Edna into a flat screen TV (complete with Netflix and BT Sport no doubt!).
We faced six games in a row after Christmas, against teams in the top eight, and won the lot. And, then we followed that up with what was a pretty much routine, nothing much to see here, win against West Ham (other than Trent at one point deciding to see how hard he could welly the ball against his own post just for the hell of it – answer “quite hard”). Which does now mean that we’ve now done something that none of the great Liverpool sides of the past ever managed, and beaten every other team in the league in the same season (please see my last blog for details). Incredibly, Norwich now stand as the Premier League side who have gone the longest without losing. All of five months and a grand total of zero games. Daniel Farke must be proud of his boys achievement.
So even though the bitter winds of winter have yet to depart (or if I’m being honest yet to actually even show up at the door thanks to global warming) I’m calling it that we’ve got this thing won! No if’s, no but’s. Klopp won’t admit it but it’s a matter of when rather than if now.
So, on to our favourite feeder club Southampton. Out of all the clubs I’ve previewed so far, I have to say that this is the one I’m struggling most to remember anything memorable from the times I’ve watched us against them. I have seen them at Anfield a few times but the only thing that springs to mind is Matt Le Tissier, who apart from scoring some of the most beautiful goals I’ve ever seen also has to be possibly the laziest player I’ve witnessed in all my time watching football. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone move around less on the pitch (and I’ve seen Jan Molby play at Hereford, for Swansea, in his dotage and wearing what Norris McWhirter later officially confirmed were the worlds largest pair of shorts).
What does stick in my mind though is us being handed our arse on a plate at the Dell on more than one occasion in the 1990’s, usually with at least one Le Tissier wonder goal and a Rod Wallace thunderbolt thrown in. It seemed to be a right bogey ground, up there with the notorious plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road, and Coventry City (who were just simply a bogey team wherever we played them).
This match won’t be the foregone conclusion it probably would have been a couple of months ago. Southampton have gone streaking through the field like Ayrton Senna trying to get to the post office before it shuts. It’s the sort of run Bobby Robson’s Ipswich always seemed to go on when I was a kid, suddenly going from the relegation zone to the top three quicker than Jimmy Hill could light his pipe. If Chelsea continue to wobble it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could even sneak into the Champions League places. I’m unclear what Ralph Hassenhuttl has done to turn things around but it’s certainly seems to be working.
Part of the reason is of course the form of one Danny Ings, once of this parish and a rare example of our school exchange programme, with Saints working the other way (in return we got a moody French kid who just rolled his eyes and went “pah!” in a Gallic fashion every time he got taken to Nando’s as a treat. And then trying to get Curtis Jones hooked on Gauloise’s. Plus Sadio Mane). A player I always liked and was at Anfield to witness him scoring a rare goal v Norwich (in the dying days of the Rodgers era in what also turned out to be the last time I failed to see us win at Anfield). Huge shame that injuries meant he never really got a chance with us but it just shows how far we’ve come, that he’d be unlikely to ever get a look in these days.
The other best thing about Southampton is of course the fact that Ralph Hassenhuttl is apparently German for Ralph Hare-Hutch. Not an expert on how things are hare-wise in Austria but from what I’ve seen of hares over here they are a damn sight bigger than rabbits. So, either they have very small hares in Vienna, very poor standards of animal welfare or the literal translation of huttl is really ‘small B&Q garden shed’.
Right, on to the match prediction. But before I do so I’d like to blow my own trumpet for getting my last match prediction almost spot on for the second time this season. Right scoreline and correctly forecast that Salah would finally break his duck against Manchester United. And, I more or less got the second goalscorer right as well (when I said Shaqiri would get it, I meant Virgil Van “Shaqiri” obvs. I was just using the nickname known only to me and the lads in the dressing room, thanks to his, ahem, strong resemblance to his Swiss twin, their shared love of things with holes in (cheese, dykes, Everton’s plans for their new stadium) and the fact that if you spelled out their names together on a Scrabble board, you can get rid of all the hard letters apart from Z (I always knew I’d find a use for Christian Ziege one day).
As for Saturday’s game. 3-1 to us to equal City’s record of 20 consecutive top flight home wins. Keita (after Klopp decides on a bit of rotation), Salah, and Firmino. The inevitable curse of the ex-player meaning a Danny Ings consolation is inevitable. And then we go marching on into the winter break, needing a maximum of four (four!) points to clinch our place in next season’s Champions League. On the 1st February!
PS. We’re going to win the League!