It's The Small Things That Lose You Titles

Liverpool got the 'fear' at times on Sunday, but Vincent Kompany was there to allow the little kid to carry on sprinting. The sort of mistake that wins or loses a title race...

Last Updated: 14/04/14 at 10:33 Post Comment

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Oh, Vincent!

Liverpool's pursuit of the Premier League has been a giddy one. They've gone after the title like a child running down a hill, getting quicker and quicker with every step until the world is streaking past around them, always appearing to be on the verge of tripping and crashing to the ground in a flurry of limbs and tears and grass stains. And always managing, so far, not to.

On Sunday, this giddiness saw Liverpool to a 2-0 half-time lead, as City's defence melted before the terrifying sight of some small people running quite fast, and some other people singing and waving scarves. Raheem Sterling made a fool out of Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart made a fool out of himself, then Martin Skrtel made a fool out of the entire concept of marking. All seemed to be going to plan.

Then, a stumble. Manuel Pellegrini replaced the thoroughly transparent Jesus Navas with the defiantly opaque James Milner, and Liverpool, perhaps noticing what they were on the verge of achieving, got the fear. City attackers started appearing in the box and standing there, untroubled, as Liverpool's defenders stared at them and one another in panicked confusion. David Silva winkled home the first; Glen Johnson stabbed the second past a collapsing Simon Mignolet. It seemed that Mark Clattenburg's thundering act of cowardice -- well, I should send him off, but everybody would be really angry -- might not even matter, as the little kid skittered and wobbled and teetered on the very edge of balance.

Winning a title happens on many levels. There's the careful acquisition of talent, yes, and the arrangement of that talent in pleasing and effective shapes. There's the broad sweep of the season. But there's also the little decisions, the tiny failures, the small errors. A few seconds here and there on which the entire momentum of a season can shift. And if a player or a team cannot master these moments, then they get what they deserve, which is to say: nothing. To pluck an example from the air, then: should you, the captain of a title-aspirant team, find yourself in a position where your side have dragged themselves back from the edge of annihilation to the point of dominance, should you have fixed what was broken, should it all be going your way, then you simply must not slice the ball limply to an unmarked opponent on the edge of your own penalty area. Because if you do, well, you probably don't deserve to win a title.

Oh, Vincent. And the little kid helterskelters on.

****

Elsewhere, in one of those strange cosmic injustices that our brains are too small to comprehend, Chelsea got exactly the same number of points as Liverpool despite being vastly more boring. The highlight of the game came afterwards, in fact, as John Terry confirmed that he had instructed the referee to send off Chico Flores. "I just said, 'It's a second yellow for me' ... Fair play to Phil, the ref, it was a big decision to make and I thought he made the right one and credit goes to him for that."

Take a moment to enjoy that quote. Roll it around your mouth a couple of times. Imagine John Terry's game face, and now try to imagine the words "It's a second yellow for me" coming out of it. Not that he cares about the winning, oh no. This isn't about the petty business of football. No, as long as the right decision is reached, then that's the main thing. All credit to Phil. It was a big decision to make, and it takes a big man to make it. JT's just trying to help.

****

Elsewhere, and slightly beyond the remit of the Premier League Diary but what are you going to do about it, the FA Cup semi-finals happened. Hull City spoilsportedly ruined the dreams of Sheffield United, but did so by scoring five and shipping three, so it's hard to complain too much. On Saturday, meanwhile, Arsenal managed to vastly irritate Roy Keane by celebrating a semi-final win on penalties over a Championship team. What Roy's failing to get here, we think, is that this is just another step along Arsenal's mission: to further refine their impression of Arsenal. Of course they were ecstatic to the point of selfie to win the penalties, their brand requires it. Nearly stuffing up a semi-final is the perfect set-up to completely stuffing up the final.

But let's pay tribute to the moving scenes before the match. No, not that, that's fine. We're talking about the jingoistic display of proto-fascism that saw members of the armed forces parading the club crests for all four sides in the semi-finals. Because, obviously, in the run-up to an FA Cup semi-final, nothing says 'fun for all the family' like watching the uniformed agents of a destructive global power holding up an extra large duvet with a tiger on it. The sooner that sport stops being a propaganda branch for our brave boys abroad, the sooner we might be able to examine where this increasing militaristic love-in has come from, and what exactly it's attempting to do.

****

Pottered about the garden, caught up on a bit of reading, got a good start on the crossword, and nobody shouted at him. A pretty good weekend for David Moyes. That was until he consulted Twitter, other websites and the newspapers, who have started to run some not ludicrous suggestions that Manchester United have decided that now is the time to start planning for the future. Moyes should be happy about that, but the problem is that they're planning for the future without him. In fact, Moyes should be happy about that too. It isn't for him, this United gig. What he needs is to be out of a place where 'trying' and talking about 'trying' is insulting to the fans and players, and go somewhere this approach will be worthwhile. David Moyes in 2015, then, will be heading up a Primary School Sports Day near you. Everyone is a winner, even the kid who comes in last.

Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton

You can follow Andi on Twitter here, Alexander on Twitter here, and buy last season's Diary here.

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