Premier League will go to wire, says Robert­son

The Guardian - - SPORT - Nick Ames

Andy Robert­son be­lieves the ti­tle bat­tle be­tween Liver­pool and Manch­ester City will be fought to the bit­ter end and that, with the mar­gin for er­ror so slim at this stage, per­for­mance lev­els are ul­ti­mately less im­por­tant than find­ing a way to win.

Liver­pool opened up a seven-point gap at the top, at least un­til City have played Wolves this evening, with a largely for­get­table win at Brighton but there are few il­lu­sions in­side the dress­ing room that, their heads cleared from los­ing nar­rowly to their ri­vals for top spot 10 days ago, the next four months will turn into a pro­ces­sion.

“It doesn’t mat­ter how you get there,” Robert­son said. “We know it’s go­ing to go right to the wire. City are a fan­tas­tic team and we be­lieve we are a re­ally good team. It’s go­ing to go right to the wire: there are still a lot of big games to come and we [have to] just keep knock­ing them off.”

The vic­tory over Chris Hughton’s side, earned through Mo­hamed Salah’s 49th-minute penalty, will oc­cupy min­i­mal space in the end-of-sea­son high­lights com­pi­la­tions but Robert­son pointed out that it does not stand alone. “The two Brighton games have been mas­sive for us,” he said, re­call­ing how Liver­pool strug­gled to a sim­i­larly hard-fought 1-0 win at An­field in Au­gust. Their knack for com­ing out on top dur­ing days of rel­a­tive drudgery is per­haps the most eye-catch­ing dif­fer­ence in this sea­son’s team and it pro­vides as much sat­is­fac­tion as those games when they man­age to cut loose.

“It’s just the win­ning men­tal­ity and find­ing a way,” Robert­son said. “But that’s what all the teams are do­ing now. City haven’t played their best but have been win­ning games and Tot­ten­ham have done the same, so I think we are all show­ing signs of do­ing that. Who­ever wins the league will look back on some games and go ‘Do you know what, we prob­a­bly weren’t at our best there, and that was prob­a­bly one that helped us turn one point into three or zero into one’.”

Mo­ments like the sec­ond-half block Fabinho pro­duced from Pas­cal Gross cer­tainly con­trib­ute to that feel­ing. The Brazil­ian was asked to deputise at cen­tre-back and, after one early blip when he let Glenn Mur­ray es­cape, mas­tered the oc­ca­sion well. “I thought he was dif­fer­ent class,” Robert­son said. Fabinho has over­come a quiet start at Liver­pool to be in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial, al­beit mainly from his favoured mid­field role, in re­cent weeks and Robert­son drew par­al­lels with his own adap­ta­tion after join­ing from Hull City in July 2017.

“I think all the lads that have come in have ex­pe­ri­enced very sim­i­lar,” he said. “Me and Chambo [Alex Oxlade Cham­ber­lain] ex­pe­ri­enced it last sea­son, Naby [Keïta] is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it a wee bit now, Fabinho has ex­pe­ri­enced it, Shaq [Xher­dan Shaqiri] has ex­pe­ri­enced it. It’s just learn­ing, and of course the mas­sive ex­pec­ta­tions that come with play­ing for Liver­pool some­times take a wee bit of get­ting used to. It did for me, and once I got used to it I’ve not re­ally looked back. Fabinho took his time and now we are get­ting the re­wards from it.”

Liver­pool will travel to Dubai for a warm weather train­ing camp after Satur­day’s match with Crys­tal Palace, hav­ing been freed up to do so by a skele­ton side’s 2-1 de­feat to Wolves in the FA Cup third round. By then, Fabinho should be primed for a re­turn to the en­gine room. Jür­gen Klopp hopes Joël Matip, who was on the bench at Brighton but not ready to start after re­cov­er­ing from a frac­tured col­lar­bone, will ben­e­fit from the gap in their fix­ture list along with De­jan Lovren and Joe Gomez, who may both be avail­able by the end of the month.

Al­though he would never say so, Robert­son might ap­pre­ci­ate a slow­ing down in the sched­ule. On Thurs­day his wife, Rachel, gave birth to their sec­ond child and he had to leave them the fol­low­ing day to travel with the team. His per­for­mance did not miss a beat, one fizzing first-half cross al­most re­sult­ing in a goal for Roberto Firmino. On the pitch, the next four months will be about ne­go­ti­at­ing ev­ery bump in the road and let­ting as lit­tle spec­u­la­tion as pos­si­ble reach their ears.

“Look, we hope we are here to stay,” Robert­son said. “We let ev­ery­one else talk be­cause the only pres­sure for us is play­ing for Liver­pool. And we can deal with that.”

‘City are a fan­tas­tic team and we are too: there are lots of big games to come’ Andy Robert­son Liver­pool

BRYN LEN­NON/GETTY IMAGES

▲ Andy Robert­son (right) put in an­other solid dis­play against Brighton

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