At lunchtime on Saturday, while the attention of fans of English football turns to one of the biggest rivalries in the game, up in the Scottish highlands, perhaps golf’s greatest rivalry will be in full swing. And a glance at the recent history of the Ryder Cup – specifically, 2012’s memorable contest in Medinah, Illinois – illustrates quite how important momentum can be. At 10-5 down as the sun began to set on the second day of competition, with 14.5 points required for victory, European hopes were slim. A stirring comeback victory that evening from Ian Poulter gave them belief, though, then on the third and final day, the first four results fell favourably. By the end of the day, the miracle was complete. And Liverpool Football Club, meanwhile, can – almost – tell a similar story. At the beginning of February 2014, they were certainly on an upward trajectory from the previous campaign, with a lacklustre seventh-place finish having been upgraded to a strong push for the top four, and a return to the Champions League. 11 matches and two and a half months later, it was beginning to look like they could not lose, either a game or the title. In the end, of course, they came up against arch-spoiler Jose Mourinho, were spooked against Crystal Palace and fell two points short of Manchester City. This season, they have, as yet, no such momentum. But while they may have lost Luis Suarez, they have not yet lost the plot. A 5-1 Anfield thrashing of Arsenal got the ball rolling last time round. Could a tub-thumping turnover of the Toffees do the same this season?
It would not be risking overstatement to say that Everton have a poor recent record at Anfield. Of the last six league meetings there, Liverpool have won four, with two draws, and an overall goal difference of plus nine. The Toffees have not tasted victory at the home of the Reds this century. For the sake of Everton fans everywhere, we should probably stop there. And despite every protestation that you will hear to the contrary, the weight of history can be crushing – Liverpool need only look over at their other big rivals to see that. Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the world has seen the oppressive air around Old Trafford, the aura of inevitable destruction, dissipate. Over the years, there have been many lesser-quality Manchester United teams. Kieran Richardson lifted the Premier League trophy in 2007. Darron Gibson has a winner’s medal from 2011. Hell, even Roy Carroll won the league once. What those United teams had, though, was unshakeable belief, and they would wear opponents down before the inescapable ‘Fergie time’ killer blow. David Moyes’s team threw that all away; and once other teams start to believe that they can win, the effort needed to beat them becomes that much magnified. The Reds have the wood over the Toffees; they cannot sacrifice it.
There is momentum and there is history, there is hope and there is belief. And, frankly, you can believe in all of that or not. But there is also simple maths. Last year, Premier League runners-up Liverpool lost six league games. Arsenal, who finished in the final Champions League place, lost seven; and fifth-placed Everton lost eight. Almost exactly the same pattern occurred in 2012/13, and a quick scan of recent seasons suggests that if a team gets into the realms of losing eight of their 38 fixtures, reaching Europe’s marquee club competition will prove a struggle. Out of five matches this season, Liverpool have already lost three. They came unstuck against Manchester City, were turned over at West Ham, and they have lost at home to Aston Villa. They have not yet played Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. Perhaps, with Manchester City and Chelsea strengthening their squads over the summer, no Liverpool fan truly expected a title challenge like last season. At the top end of the league, though, the margins tend to be very fine. Last year’s remarkable run was a glorious ‘shot to nothing’. Any more early defeats this time around, and they might very soon need something similar.
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