Champions know how to get the job done even when they aren’t at their best. That’s a maxim that is taken as truth but can really only be done so with hindsight and a major smoothing of the narrative, right?
Because, ultimately, it’s obvious that Champions will have gotten the job done cause, well, they’re the champions. And doing so when they’re not at their best is a bit subjective. It’s a line of thinking that lends itself rather easy when reflecting on the road to a title once that title has already been decided.
But does it hold any water?
The role of writers like me - and those who are, of course, much, much better at this lark and at #analysis than I - is to make sense of the ebbs and flows of a Premier League season. Generally as its happening, but we’ll also end up writing about the season in review.
Because of that, we’re constantly looking at what this particular match and what certain moments mean for the overall narrative of this particular squad. We’re looking, then, for a story.
And, right now, the story that Liverpool are writing is one made of magic.
I’ve been a sport fan for the bulk of my life. That’s the product of being raised by a father who was a semi-pro sportsman himself - boxing and basketball - and by a mother who, raised by a widowed father, loved all aspects of sports.
Before I’d even made it to America, I was a Laker fan, being that it was easy given how successful the team was in the 80’s. That success is what made the games accessible across the Pacific to my home via tape delay. That my father was working in Los Angeles, made it kind of a given: his kids would root for their eventual hometown team and the Lakers were Kings of LA.
When I made it stateside in 1988, my father went through every effort to indoctrinate me into American sporting culture. He taught me the game of baseball and, again, I was lucky to have come at a time when the local team was good. I remember him keeping me up to watch the Dodgers win the World Series in ‘88.
There were a lot of lean years in my sporting fandom. The LA Kings were not good enough for so long despite having the best player in the history of the sport for large parts of my youth. I lived through the bad, if lovable, era of the post-Magic Lakers, headlined by Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. The Dodgers have yet to win another World Series since that auspicious introduction I received to rooting for dem bums.
I haven’t always known how to spot a winner because I’ve gone through so much of my sporting life rooting for lovable losers. I’m a bit wary and a bit shy, but I think I’m rooting for one right now. And it is glorious.
Liverpool’s last gasp winner against Aston Villa on the weekend came in the span of five furious and miraculous minutes. Not miraculous because they hadn’t been putting in the work, but miraculous because it felt like life or fortune or VAR had all conspired to ensure that the Reds would be entering this week with their first loss and a significant reduction in their lead at the top of the table.
With a showdown against defending Premier League champs Manchester City looming in the next match, the results felt like they meant more. That the weight of this particular match was going to have ramifications beyond your typical, early-November tilt. And the Reds were losing.
But, then, Sadio Mane lofted an inch-perfect cross to Andrew Robertson for the equalizer. And, as if to say he’d be the hero we’d all been waiting for, Mané turned in a low cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold with an audacious flick. Liverpool with one goal to the good and three points in hand. City, lying in wait.
It’ll be easy to rush past this moment when reviewing this season, come the end of it. And with so much football yet to be played, and the results still very much up in the air, there’s reason not to draw circles around it.
But I hope that, if things break the right way and it all holds true that we are sitting on the edge of a great Liverpool triumph, we do not forget what that match gave us. It gave us the opportunity to head into the face-off with City and force them to have to walk away with all three points to maintain a place in the race. It gave us the opportunity to further cement our claim as a team to be taken seriously as one of the best in Europe. It gave us a chance to see what it means when a team believes and entirely commits to the idea that on any given day, they can and will find a way to bring home all three points.
Underpinning the narrative of champions is a deep-seated confidence that the work and preparation they’ve undertaken is enough to see them through. That even on days when the magic dries up and the luck goes the other way, there is enough in the graft and effort and determined work to pull out a result.
And that it is in that very specific crucible that a team of players is refined into champions.