Are Liverpool bottling it? Why it’s a myth that Klopp's men are throwing away title

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The Reds are pushing a record-breaking Manchester City side all the way in the Premier League yet, absurdly, their mental strength is being questioned

There’s no place like Netflix now, if documentary series' are your thing.

The media giant’s latest offering, slickly produced and expertly marketed, is an exploration of sport, and the experiences of those who come up short in sight of glory.

Covering tales from the worlds of boxing, golf, curling, basketball and marathon-running, among others, it’s a fascinating and at-times harrowing watch as the subjects discuss their hopes and dreams, their pain and misery, the pressures of elite competition and the psychological torment which comes with failure.

It's called 'Losers'.

Which brings us neatly to the Premier League title race.

Battle resumes this weekend with Liverpool re-cast in the role of chasers. Pace-setters for months, Jurgen Klopp’s men now find themselves on the coat-tails of Manchester City, waiting for a slip or a stumble from the champions.

It’s a brutal world, football. It tests you, makes demands of you, drains you and hurts you. And when you’ve given every last drop, when you’ve pushed yourself to the limit, it can’t wait to point its finger and laugh at your heartache.

"These people put everything on the line," Ron Shelton, the Hollywood director, says in ‘Losers’. "And at the end, they are called losers. That’s just wrongful to me."

In this Premier League tussle, of course, there can only be one winner. For whoever comes up short, there will be only the regrets, the tears and the barbs.

Losers? They’ll be worse than that. They’ll be bottlers, chokers, figures of fun, to be mocked endlessly for having the temerity to come up short against the most relentless of opponents. They’ll be a collection of flops and frauds, found out when the going got tough.

It is Liverpool, after a run of four draws in six games, who have had to endure such jibes of late. Jurgen Klopp’s side, second in the table, stand accused of a loss of nerve, a collapse of character.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2019

Klopp himself is supposedly ‘cracking up’ under the pressure, blaming his side’s mental flaws on referees, pitches or weather.

One newspaper – you can guess which one – superimposed his head onto Kevin Keegan’s body this week, while one bookmaker – you can guess which one – ran a ‘crack-o-meter’ article, asking readers to "rate and rank" the German’s "bizarre behaviour".

Harsh? Just a bit. Liverpool are, after all, in the midst of a remarkable season, potentially one of the best in their history. After 29 games, they have 70 points. In the history of top-flight English football, only 10 other teams have boasted such a record.

The problem, and it is a rather significant one, is that one of those 10 teams happen to be the ones with whom the Reds are now battling. City, 100-point champions last season, continue to set the standard at the summit. Pep Guardiola’s team, indeed, have their eye on an unprecedented ‘quadruple’ of trophies come the end of the campaign.

That is what Liverpool are up against: a remarkable team, assembled at great cost and with the world’s most successful manager at the helm, seeking to make football history.

Imagine Thanos teaming up with Bill Gates and getting Anthony Joshua to guard the door. That’s what Klopp and his side are dealing with here.

'Losers' Liverpool PS

No criticism of City here, by the way. They have spent well and are coached superbly. They play wonderful football and have the kind of squad depth which every club aspires to. They’re some team.

Rather, the aim is to highlight the folly of a world which mocks those who seek to compete with this powerhouse; those who, to return to Ron Shelton’s words, put everything on the line in search of glory.

How can Liverpool – or Tottenham for that matter – be deemed bottlers or chokers if they were to fall short of City’s standard this season? How could City, if they were to veer off course in the coming weeks, be derided as failures?

Has this sport become so tribal, so joyless, so obsessed with winning that we turn the rest into losers? Why the rush to revel in misery rather than celebrate excellence? Why must every success be binary, every failure absolute? And is ‘bottling’ really a valid explanation for the twists and turns of a Premier League season?

Without City moving the goalposts, and without Liverpool and Tottenham fighting to stay with them, where would this Premier League season be? We would be sat idle, watching one team dominate and the rest wilt.

We’d be worrying about a monopoly, about another Ligue 1 or Scottish Premiership, a one-horse race masquerading as a serious competition. We’d be bored, for sure.

Virgil van Dijk Liverpool PS

One of the most poignant quotes in ‘Losers’ comes from Al Hackner, the Canadian curling champion of the 1980s, who dismisses the idea that winning is all that matters in sport.

"If it’s all in the outcome," Hackner says, "you lose so much in how you got there and how it made you feel."

It should be about more than just the final result, or else we’d ignore the season and just check the table each May to see who can be happy and who can be mocked.

So, thanks should go to City, whose muscle has lifted standards, and to Liverpool (and Spurs), who have had the courage and character to go and chase them.

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Whichever of these two sides come up short in the coming weeks – and one of them will – we should be fair in our appraisals.

Chokers? Bottlers? Losers? There should be no such thing in a season such as this.

Time to enjoy the race. It’s what football should be about, after all.

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