The magic of momentum can make Manchester miserable

It’s 47 games played and counting for The Reds, but again, Manchester City is standing in the way of something special

A trophy in the cabinet, in the FA Cup semi-final, the last eight in Europe and one point behind the Premier League leaders with a mano-a-mano scrap ahead. These are the days, my friend.

There are shades of 2001 in all of this. There were times then when I woke up and wondered what league we were in next. Back then you could only get printed tickets, so you never knew which notes were in the next envelope. It was fantastic then and it is fantastic now.

The win over Nottingham Forest was not pretty, but it was another hurdle taken against tough opposition. The atmosphere was incredible on the banks of the Trent, which apparently overlooks the Mull of Kintyre (don’t ask me). They have a decent setup there. They will do well if they can keep them at all.

It was just a shame that the police thought it would be a smart idea to let us get off the ground with them if we clearly can’t stand each other. Well thought out, guys.

Aside from Diogo Jota’s goal, my pre-match highlight came. Forest obviously borrowed their sound system from Wembley, where the decibel level has only two settings: deafening and deafening.

Just before kick-off they played a rave banger of yesteryear to cheer up the crowd and our party was fully on board. As their lot sang about “We’re coming for you” and the usual poverty stuff, our ending bounced along to the tune with a wide grin, totally oblivious to the taunts from left, right and above. A good time came first and the cartoon abuse could wait.

But that’s over now and thanks to the international break we get some free time (winks at Trent). We will also need it. The past few weeks have been exhausting with games to be won after games to be won.

It’s funny how easy it is to see a fixture as a potential disaster. We have Watford next at Anfield and although we’ve already hammered them on their home turf and now that they’ve added Roy Hodgson it’s somehow easy to put them in the same group as Xavi and Iniesta’s Barcelona.

The nerves creep in no matter who we play against. I suppose we’re getting to the point where we think this run has to end someday. The “football gods” and all.

And yet in the last few weeks alone, we’ve beaten Arsenal on their own centerpieces and moved past Inter Milan – two games that would make even the most optimistic of Reds frown a little. Oh, we knew it would be okay, but they’re hardly a cinch.

Arsenal were only gone last week and since then we have just reached the FA Cup semi-final. The pressure never ends and I love it, but I’m also looking forward to a weekend without feet.

One trophy in the cabinet, in the semi-finals of the other domestic cup, the last eight in Europe and one point behind the leaders. It is significant that one club stands among all those clubs. Yes, I know we have Benfica with Villarreal or Bayern, but it is Manchester City that most people think of – and with good reason.

We play so many games in a season – it’s 47 this campaign – and yet it all comes down to us and them in the end. We’ll play them twice in the next few weeks and it could be three times. I hope so anyway. If we beat them three times, we can… no, let’s not get into that.

Jurgen won’t think of four trophies and I’m fighting every thought of it. I learned a lot from Gerard Houllier’s 2002 “10 games from greatness” and the power of the football gods. Stay humble.

But how do you stay humble when this side can fight and fight and fight when things don’t go the way they want? The Arsenal game was a perfect example. Mikel Arteta came armed with a plan and it would have worked against a lesser side, but this one stuck with it and took his chances when he could.

History will only show the result, but that tenacity, that determination is as characteristic as Mo Salah’s goals and the positioning of the full defenders.

It is why many experts take frantic turns with their predictions. Yes, five weeks ago we were 14 points behind City, but if there’s one team in the league that can cut that number, it’s the guys in the red.

Alex Ferguson went on about “squeaky bum time”, but this is all about momentum. City looked lost to Crystal Palace when it became clear they were battling those gods again, while Jurgen’s Reds found a way when our match in London went the same way.

That lead may help, but it won’t be the only factor. City are an excellent team who can make every game pointless before half time. Pep Guardiola won’t be nervous, just furious that it comes down to this.

But this is just a snapshot – a moment in a season. Both teams are in different spots than last week and that too could change. Not this week, however. This week we can put our feet up and reflect.

I like having an annoying nemesis like this. Sure, Chelsea are a strong side and deserve their place in the top three, but it’s great to have a Moriarty for our Holmes, a master for our Doctor.

I know we can look at some of the decisions they’ve made, and they’ll say the same about us, and no fan believes their side is being treated fairly, but I like having them as a focus. Two of the best managers in the game stare at each other for the 36 miles between them. Of course the other parties will take points from us, but they are the party to beat.

It’s time to make an effort as we approach the business end of the season. It’s us and them again and it may be for a while. Use your speed.

These are the days.


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