Football/Soccer

Nervous times for fans of Liverpool FC - and Man United

Will Liverpool still be smiling at the end of this season?

IT’S hard to work out who’s more nervous at the moment – supporters of Liverpool FC or Manchester United.

Yes, United, not City. The English champions’ fans are still ‘living the dream’, or should be, whether or not they retain that title this season. In time, City fans will get used to success, come to expect it, but for now the vast majority of them are enjoying how far their club has travelled and the fabulous football that they mostly play.

I’m talking about the sensible supporters of the two north-west Reds; there are still some of those.

The many fools who follow both clubs may be declaring either that Liverpool have already won the League or that they will never win it, but the truth is that neither of those assertions is certain.

Of course, as a Liverpool fan I’ve already been the recipient of fake, fate-tempting ‘congratulations’ from several Manchester United supporters.

Fair play to them, I would do the same in their circumstances. A WhatsApp message from me bemoaning Liverpool dropping points against smaller clubs, sent out as the game entered added time, undoubtedly played its part in a home win in the Anfield Merseyside derby.

You do whatever you can to help your club, of course.

I don’t mean silly stuff like wearing ‘lucky’ pants or socks or a suit.

Just the obvious things, and only on match-days: such as making sure you and your children eat off red plates, that you buy a certain drink, remember to put ‘Big Red Duck’ (with the Liverbird crest) in the bath, hop backwards over cracks in the pavement, and so on. Nothing crazy.

Liverpool supporters, at least those of a certain age, are understandably anxious about this latest title challenge, having gone since 1990 without winning the League.

Although there’s plenty of doubt around, there’s no doubt that Liverpool are in their best position for many years, six points clear of second-placed Spurs and seven ahead of City – whom they meet tonight.

Yet as other fans delight in pointing out, over the past decade the only club that has failed to win the League after being top at Christmas has been Liverpool - twice.

There were extenuating circumstances on both occasions (Liverpool only lost one more game in 2008/9, while they were actually FIFTH at that halfway (19-game) stage in 2013/14 after two controversial away defeats immediately after Christmas to their title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Heck, they were even behind Everton).

Liverpool took 44 points in their second set of 19 games a decade ago, and 48 five years ago; I’d probably settle for the former tally this time around, although I admit my nights spent lying awake, calculating how many points will be needed to take the title haven’t yet brought me to a definitive conclusion.

Manchester United themselves ‘choked’ as recently as 2012, losing a significant lead over City late on in that campaign, so it’s daft for anyone to suggest the title race is over in December, January, or even April.

However, it cannot be denied that Liverpool have a reputation for – ho ho ho – slipping up and their mental fortitude will be tested in the second half of this campaign.

The quality of City, who finished last season with a record-breaking 100 points, cannot be forgotten either, despite their recent wobbly run of results.

Pep Guardiola’s team remains the most potent attacking outfit in the division, with 54 goals from their 20 matches so far, compared to 48 for Liverpool.

City know they need to win tonight’s encounter and are very capable of doing so. They thrashed Liverpool 5-0 at the Etihad last season and battered the Reds in the first half of the Champions League clash there earlier this year.

Liverpool are obviously better defensively since the start of 2018, due to the additions of centre half Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker, although City have the firepower to make such a comment seem silly.

The Reds will be severely tested by City’s midfield creativity and finishing ability. Having Kevin de Bruyne, David and Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, and Leroy Sane at your disposal is a serious goal threat – never mind the ability going forward of their supposed defenders and deeper midfielders.

Still, no matter the result at the Etihad tonight, the title race will not be finished.

Spurs are still in it, and Chelsea aren’t completely out of it, and even Manchester United are ‘back’, of course, while there’s the small matter of 17 more league matches – a potential 51 points – for each team to contest.

Having said that, Manchester United fans are right to be nervous, but they should remember this: if – and it’s a big, 96-point IF – Liverpool somehow hang on to win the title it won’t be the end of the world.

Indeed, after sweating my way through the 1992 season, it was almost (almost) a relief whenever the Red Devils ended their own long wait.

Besides, the world then ‘ended’ a further dozen times under Fergie, and they even won the Big One twice.

I’m not suggesting for a second that Liverpool will follow suit, but there are worse things that could happen than the title returning to Anfield. Honestly.

Just turn to the news pages. Or, worse still, think what Piers Morgan would be like if Arsenal ever get to the top again.

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