There are nine games left. Liverpool are a point back. Everything isn’t lost. There’s still lots to play for. Don’t panic. That’s going to be the message over the next week, and it’s not a bad one. Because it’s true and it’s not over and there’s still plenty to play for.
“We’re only a point behind City,” was left back Andy Robertson’s response when asked if the players can stay positive after dropping to second following a frustrating draw with Everton. “They’ve been good at piling on the pressure, but now we do that to them.
“Hopefully they feel it because we will push them the whole way. We’ll push right to the final whistle and kick in the last game of the season. If we fall short, we fall short, if we don’t then great. But we’ll fight for everything now and we’ll push them the whole way. “
The problem, though, is that while everything he says is true, it doesn’t entirely account for context—just like those who might ask if Liverpool fans, at the start of the season, would’ve taken a chance to be a point behind City in the title race at this stage doesn’t.
It doesn’t account for the context of being seven points up on them coming into 2019, or of having the chance to stretch that lead to ten following City’s loss to Newcastle in January to only then manage a lukewarm performance and draw against Leicester City.
It doesn’t account for the context of Liverpool’s slumping form, of going from dropping six points in the first 20 games this season to dropping 11 in the nine since the calendar turned. And it doesn’t account for City, after their own slump, finding form again.
If Liverpool, over the final nine games, continue the pace they’ve set over the past nine, they’ll earn 16 more points and end up on 86. It would be a laudable, in some ways even remarkable, tally. But City, even on their season-long form, are heading for 93.
Based on City’s own recent form, Liverpool’s title rivals are headed for 95 points, which helps to set the range the Reds need to now target—while remembering that Liverpool would likely need an extra point to beat City thanks to goal differential.
To get 93 points, Liverpool need 23 from the final nine: seven wins, two draws. To get 94, they need eight wins and can lose once pushing to turn a potential second draw into a win. To get 95, it’s eight wins and a draw. Those are the targets to have a chance.
There’s still plenty to play for with nine games left in the season, but the larger context—the way the two teams involved in the title race have played over the past two months—does not bode well for Liverpool’s chances. Not if they keep playing as they have.
There will only be a chance—a chance, with City still now favourites—if Everton is the end of a January slump that has stretched into the beginning of March, with a week now off before Burnley for everyone to refocus on the new goals of chasing rather than leading.
“If they drop points then we need to be in a position to capitalise on that like they’ve done to us,” Robertson added. “There’s still only a game twist if they drop points, so we [have to be] there to capitalise on that. That’s what we’ve got to do.”