11 January 2020 18:32
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starts for Liverpool in this evening's Premier League encounter with Tottenham Hotspur. The No.15 begins in midfield as Jürgen Klopp makes 10 changes to the team deployed against Everton in the FA Cup last weekend. The German has found a way to quash the football tediums you often hear about unhappy players and dressing room rifts, and has harnessed the type of togetherness at Liverpool which is yielding unrivalled success. Klopp is aware of the fine balance between sentiment and meritocracy, and will need to strike such a balance when deciding on the third of his midfield choices against Tottenham Hotspur this afternoon. He has been outstanding all season for Liverpool when called upon, and looks in the best physical shape he has been since 2016.
Yet Klopp trusts the player beyond reproach, and his ability to knit-possession and work for the team may be what sees him start ahead of Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino, who can both provide ammunition from the bench in the second-half. Last week I wrote a piece directed toward Liverpool fans about rising above the fume. This week, I'm directing this message to you, Evertonians, Blues and Reds of Manchester, and other folk in England and abroad who are desperate to see Liverpool's lengthy title drought continue. This obsession is so great, that even writers for ESPN are pumping out "think" pieces about how there really should be a title race! Lads, we gave you one of, if not the, greatest title race of the Premier League era last season.
Liverpool fans know it too well. We lived in fear for each and every one of Manchester United's 13 top flight titles since we last won the league. We lived in fear during our title challenges in 2008/09, 2013/14, and last year. We didn't want to see our rivals lifting the big one at the end of the season. But this fear was ultimately unhealthy, and did nothing to prevent other teams from winning or Liverpool from finishing second best (or usually worse). Since Liverpool were last crowned the Champions of England, we watched our own records eclipsed by United, as well as multiple championships for Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City. Sprinkle in the occasional Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, and Leicester City, and our 30 years of fruitlessness begins to well and truly sink in. We feared United taking our record 18 titles from us. In a counter-intuitive way, United taking that record away from us helped end our obsession. To you, dear opposition fan, Liverpool winning a single Premier League is the worst thing imaginable. The same was said last year before we won the Champions League. We still might not win the league this year. But eventually, Liverpool will get their hands on the big thing. The worst thing will have happened, and you'll realize it's not that big of a deal. If we can survive three decades of watching our direct rivals win everything, all while our own trophy cabinet mostly collects nothing but dust, and living through the Twitter #TopBantz era, you can survive a few years of a Liverpool revival. If it makes you feel better, you can start writing, "come back after you've won more Premier League titles than Blackburn Rovers." That's a freebie. If Liverpool do the decent thing—for all fans, really—next season will kick off like any other, with everyone having hopes for their own clubs, and not a tin-foil hat obsession with ours.