Kenny Archer: As good as it gets for Liverpool still not enough versus Manchester City
FOR such a bumbling, stumbling broadcaster, Adrian Chiles has uttered at least one one unforgettable truth: it’s the hope that kills you.
The West Brom fan was talking about trying to avoid relegation, but it applies equally to supporters of teams chasing trophies, trying to dethrone champions.
Liverpool have walked on with hope in their hearts, but Manchester City have simply kept marching imperiously to the retention of the league title.
Dublin are strong favourites to make it five in a row in Gaelic football, even though Galway, Kerry, Mayo, and Tyrone may fancy their chances.
Sky isn’t the problem in soccer or Gaelic football – the sky blues are, for everyone else.
Dublin’s brilliance is well-documented, and will be again this summer. With Rory O’Carroll back in their ranks, possibly Diarmuid Connolly too, and having tried out a few others in the League, Jim Gavin is well set to make history.
City are also amazing, astonishing, astounding – and that’s just some of the appropriate adjectives beginning with the letter ‘a’ which apply to them. You could run through an alphabet of adulation for them, although there aren’t many, if any, zzzzs where City are concerned.
As thrilling as they can be, City also exert great control over games. Liverpool have to literally work much harder for their victories, pressing, probing, pushing to the very end in many matches.
For all their attacking brilliance, City give very few goals away. In their current run of 13 consecutive league victories they have conceded only three goals. Three. And those have all come in 3-1 wins.
In the same time-frame, Liverpool have scored 31 but conceded nine - and had four ultimately damaging draws.
Only once, at the very start of that run, at home to Arsenal have City even been pegged back level after taking the lead.
Put simply, when City go ahead they almost always stay ahead.
That has been the case since they moved back to the top of the table in early March.
The lead wouldn’t have changed hands so often - indeed at all - had kick-off times been simultaneous.
Having different start times creates a false sense of drama, but it still has been an enthralling, extraordinarily high quality title race.
For all the mockery from others about ‘bottling’, Liverpool have been magnificent in their determination and doggedness, snapping away at the heels of City.
The amount of ‘choking’ by the rest of the top six – with just two wins (and 11 points in total) from their cumulative last 16 league games – makes you wonder how they finish their dinner, never mind a season.
Still, even an, ahem, avid Liverpool fan wouldn’t argue that they could be compared to the ‘total football’ of Holland ’74 or ’78, or the free-flowing flair of Brazil ’82.
Like those teams, though, Liverpool may be long remembered for being ‘glorious failures’.
Admittedly, a first title triumph at Anfield for 29 years might be recalled for as long again, but this Liverpool side will still stick in the memories.
In the eight matches since City overtook them at the top, the Reds have scored 22 goals and conceded eight, winning them all.
They have come from behind, scored late winners, fought, fought, and fought some more.
They’ve had to.
City have battled incredibly well too – and just kept on winning.
Pep Guardiola’s superb squad is on course to win 19 of their last 20 league games – and also for a first ever English domestic treble.
Arguably Liverpool contributed to their ‘failure’ to do the quadruple (Spurs deserve some credit too, admittedly). Without the pressure Liverpool have been exerting in the league City could have rested more key players ahead of Champions League matches.
Injuries have meant that the player I regard as the best all-round footballer in the English Premier League, Kevin de Bruyne, has missed quite a chunk of this season. His ability to create and score goals is absolutely top level.
Attacking left-back Benjamin Mendy has hardly featured at all; his talent is exceptional, although his fitness and attitude are admittedly questionable.
Even without them, and others, they still find a way to win, although City do have greater squad depth than Liverpool.
Greater quality too. In a way they were exemplified by Vincent Kompany’s all-round performance, capped off by his stunning rocket winner.
City may have to replace Kompany, and maybe Fernandinho and David Silva too, sooner rather than later, but the strength of their academy and their attractiveness to players means they might get even better.
City are so darned good that as a supporter of any of their rivals, you can either laugh or cry.
I didn’t cry. Honest. I had inadvertently poked myself in the eye.
As good as they’ve been, the fear for Liverpool is that this is as good as it’ll get. It seems highly unlikely they’ll ever achieve such a huge points total again.
They might end up with the third largest points tally in the Premier League era, behind only City last year and this, but that still doesn’t make them champions.
They’ve lost one league match in this campaign. One. Away to City.
The Reds have also enjoyed some luck, and some questionable refereeing decisions in their favour (so have City, but the out(r)age only ever seems to flow in one direction).
And still they trail City.
It’s difficult to foresee Liverpool coming close to that tally next season, especially with Manchester United sure to improve and Spurs able to enhance their squad now that they have moved into their superb new stadium. Arsenal and Chelsea have to get better too.
If you believe Evertonians, they’ll be pushing for the top four too. Heck, they might even beat Liverpool some time.
At least there’s this consolation: there is no hope, now or in the near future.