Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Liverpool’s 2019-20 campaign in perspective

Liverpool’s campaign in perspective
By Rick Olivares

One of the biggest stories in sports these days is Liverpool Football Club’s pursuit of its first Premier League title, the trophies and records they are taking and smashing, and their undefeated run. That makes for plenty of copy and talk show fodder just about anywhere. 

Let me wade in.

I find it a bit surprising that lately -- week after week – football pundits talk about Liverpool not playing well and winning games by the skin of their teeth.

In my opinion, it is doubly harder for Liverpool because of the following: 
-       They are reigning UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup champions and combined with their being title favorites, it all adds to the pressure. 
-       There is the burden of the keeping the streak going. Yes, they may not talk about it, but there is immense pride in keeping it going. 
-       And everyone wants to knock them off their perch even if to deny them a season of being invincible. Every team has circled those Liverpool dates in red; no pun intended. 

Let’s compare this Liverpool 2019-20 season to Arsenal’s 2003-04 season when they were undefeated and won the Premier League title.

One Goal-wins from Aug-Jan.
Draws from Aug-Jan
Goals for Aug-Jan
Goals against Aug-Jan
Clean Sheets
Goals for last 20 mins by team Aug-Jan
Goals against in last 20 mins by opponent Aug-Jan

What can we infer from this data?

Thus far, Liverpool is better. They have more wins and fewer draws than Arsenal. The Reds also have more goals, more clean sheets, and more late goals. Liverpool has won two cups in this season – the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. They were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Arsenal scored more goals early but conceded slightly more in the last 20 minutes. At that point in time (January of 2004), Arsenal was in contention for the League Cup, FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. The Gunners reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup, were runners-up in the FA Community Shield.

Entering the 2003-04 season, Arsenal were the defending champions, but crucial losses late in the season to Blackburn and Leeds plus three draws saw Manchester United move past them for the title. They were five points off United in the final tally. So entering the 2003-04 season, they were still favorites. 

Liverpool on the other hand, even if they won the UEFA Champions League had lots of questions. They lost the Community Shield to Manchester City at the start of the season. In all the previous seasons when they finished second in the Premier League, they disappointed in the next.

This one has been much different. They have a 40-match unbeaten run dating back to the 2018-19 season. They need to cap the season with their first Premier League trophy.

An undefeated season is gravy. What they are after are more trophies. More silverware further validates what they are doing and will help in attracting more and better players to the club (not to mention more revenue).

However, going back to my initial premise, I think the reason why they are not at their free-flowing best is the opposing clubs have been trying to play them better. They are also a little more pragmatic on defense. During manager Jurgen Klopp’s early years with the club, they leaked a lot of goals because they committed more players forward. They are selective in their press now and have placed a premium on defense.

They have a 16-point lead against defending champions Manchester City and have a game in hand. This has been their best stretch of December and January matches in all the seasons where they challenged for the title. 

In those failed campaigns past, it is these months is where their dreams came crashing; where they coughed up leads. Some might point to the slip of former captain Steven Gerrard against Chelsea several years ago (and the loss to Crystal Palace) or the loss to Man City last year as what killed their chances, but in my opinion, it is the December chill and the January brain freeze that has let them down.

Now they are past that. A new set of challenges await them.

This remains an interesting season and I am not listening to those who say that, “It’s over!” I hear you Alberto Moreno.

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