Forget Jose - These Are The Mind Games That Matter

Much has been made of Liverpool's breaks between games helping them physically, but Philip Cornwall thinks it's the time they have to rest their minds that matters...

Last Updated: 17/04/14 at 11:22 Post Comment

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The idea that it is only on these shores that the lowly can shock the mighty is a myth belied by results such as Barcelona's recent defeat at Granada, and an albeit weakened Bayern Munich surrendering their 53-game unbeaten Bundesliga streak at Augsburg. Nonetheless, as was argued here in the aftermath of Chelsea's defeat at Crystal Palace, no one should take anything for granted in the run-in. Not that anyone took any notice.

The way Manchester City rolled back and threatened to overwhelm Liverpool's 2-0 half-time lead on Sunday suggested to many that they would brook no opposition in their other matches - and certainly in the quartet of home games, against Sunderland, West Brom, Aston Villa and West Ham.

Matt Stanger analyses elsewhere what went wrong for City in the first of those games. Manuel Pellegrini's view was: "We could not take out of our minds the game against Liverpool. At this moment, it is more mental than physical."

Football appears a simple game but the role of what goes on in players heads should not be underestimated. Jose Mourinho's malevolent genius consists in part of engendering a sense of injustice among his players, convincing them (and possibly himself) that the world is against this bunch of expensively assembled and highly decorated multi-millionaires, and rallying them to fight the good fight. Perhaps his relative failure at Real Madrid, judging from the reports of a disbelieving dressing room, was down to the lack of gullibility at one of the world's most successful and wealthy clubs. Fortunately he has no trouble finding believers at Stamford Bridge.

Brendan Rodgers' approach has been less cynical, hiring Dr Steve Peters, the forensic psychiatrist who worked with Great Britain's cyclists to such astonishing effect. Peters has certainly found a willing subject in Steven Gerrard.

The Liverpool captain's display of emotion on Sunday, coming only at the end of a draining day, may be a case in point. Gerrard maintains that it was the emotion of the Hillsborough commemoration, an especially personal affair for the cousin of the youngest victim, that prompted the tears. What is most significant, surely, is that he maintained his composure throughout the match.

Nor will he have to go through another game for almost a full week, kicking off at Norwich at noon on Sunday. Much has been made about Liverpool generally playing only once a week, thereby giving Rodgers longer to plan for matches and drill his team on specific tactics, as well as meaning they are not drained physically by the intensity of playing and simply travelling to European games. But these are highly trained professionals who, physically, are certainly able to cope with playing more often and can absorb a manager's tactical tinkerings. The biggest advantage in playing only once a week may well be a mental and emotional one.

Listening to Pellegrini and looking at the players' reactions, City did not have time to banish the pain of Sunday from their minds. Forget the tedious twaddle of needle between managers, these are the mind games that matter.

Philip Cornwall

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