John Gibbons: Liverpool well placed to tackle football’s Grand National

With the Christmas period hurdle ahead The Reds look ready to take the leap…

Now the race is truly starting. We’ve all jockeyed for position.

We’ve done Becher’s Brook once with just a few casualties towards the rear, a rider named after a Stratford Bard and a Dutch fancy who looked a bit too pleased with himself from the off. We’re coming up to The Canal Turn and we’re ready to go.

Admittedly there is a classy Spanish rider from the Middle Eastern backed Manchester stable who has absolutely legged it. But for the rest, it is still all to play for. The fences come thick and fast now. With the tallest, a gruelling Christmas period known as The Chair, getting complaints from trainers already.

I didn’t look at the league table for a while. I can pretend it is some sort of old fashioned “there is no point looking at the league table until Christmas” philosophy, but really I just couldn’t face it whilst Liverpool were getting beat.

 Score your Football bets on

But, after back to back wins and a bit of a break, I’ve just had glance and am pleasantly surprised, amongst crisis talks earlier in the month, to find us in 5th. We’re three points behind Chelsea in fourth, but there is a chance to claw that back when we play them next week.

Liverpool also find themselves top of their Champions League group heading to Seville on Tuesday. You wouldn’t say things are all rosey in the garden, but there is certainly plenty to work with.

Sorry were we doing racing or gardening metaphors? Maybe we should just talk about football. This next busy period is huge for Liverpool’s season, but there are plenty of reasons to optimistic.

Mainly because, for once, the squad is looking so strong. Nathaniel Clyne’s slight back problem has turned into a six month lay-off, but everyone else seems to be OK.

The return of Adam Lallana, in particular, is huge for Liverpool.

In terms of linking midfield and attack and leading the press to retain position he has been sorely missed. A run of games for Lallana, which will also allow a couple of others to have a much-needed rest rather than playing almost every game, will be most beneficial.

Aside from Lallana, Sadio Mane’s hamstring problems seemed to have calmed down, for now at least, and Phil Coutinho was back in action for Brazil too. Liverpool’s defensive problems have been well documented, talked about and meme’d, but attacking options of Firmino, Salah, Mane, Coutinho, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sturridge are mouth watering indeed.

Not to mention youngsters such as Solanke and Woodburn, who are currently making an impact on the international scene.

Not all of them will be fit for every game in this busy period, of course. But they are options that will be the envy of most of the Premier League. Which is my point really.

Jurgen Klopp has been one of the ones getting his complaints in about the Christmas fixtures in early. Jose Mourinho has only been pausing to complain about his injuries to talk about how he doesn’t complain about them. Why is it always the managers with the best squads who complain the most about using them?

This busy period should favour the big clubs, who can rest or change 3 or 4 players without too much drop in quality, over the smaller clubs who find it more difficult.

Big clubs have summer transfers windows and huge resources to plan for these eventualities, yet seem to act like it is a surprise every year.

In the meantime, and as always the internet might make a fool of me here, clubs like Burnley and Huddersfield just seem to get on with it. I don’t know. Maybe Sean Dyche is just excited about the pitches deteriorating.

This is a great period to be a football fan. Liverpool play 13 times between now and New Year’s Day. Thirteen! Thirteen times to watch The Reds.

Thirteen opportunities for Mohammed Salah to score from one of their corners. Thirteen chances to slaughter Simon Mignolet. Thirteen occasions Jurgen Klopp won’t pick Andy Robertson. What a time to be alive.

It’s a period that will separate the men from the boys. Both on the pitch and in the terraces.

It’s a tough drinking schedule too, after all.

There will be casualties in all areas as some power through and others fall short.

Yet by January 2nd we’ll have a much better idea of who will be doing what at both ends of the table this season. Just don’t feel too sorry for those millionaire football managers having to make the best of it. No matter how much they moan.

Net all your football punts at