Modern football is about winning and not much else. Especially when you’re down at the bottom of the table. When all your season will start to consist of is beating the drop and staying in the big league for next season again.
It’s stressful. You have little time to sit and enjoy being in the Premier League, which is clearly the prize you wanted to bad in the first place. Why else would you put all the time and effort into trying to stay in the league?
But at Newcastle this season, it’s sliding into that. A win at the weekend was just so necessary because of their league position. Yet surely they can’t really take many positives out of it?
Surely, given that they won 2-0 and had their first shot on target in the last minute when they scored their second goal, there can be no concrete happiness taken from the victory other than the victory themselves? No matter how bad you are, there’s still a possibility of winning a game, after all. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
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And so that win over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, that win that more or less proves that football is a crazy sport full of unexpected consequences, probably proves nothing more than you shouldn’t bet on football!
In the end, Klopp’s Liverpool are still a team on the up, and Newcastle are still a team who don’t play like a team.
What Steve McClaren said after the game, that his players need to ‘crawl’ into the dressing room again after games because that’s the effort they need to give, really does speak volumes. Every manager requires effort from his players. But McClaren seems to require something more.
He seems to require something from his players that in the long term seems detrimental. In an age of rest and recovery, minute details and marginal gains, it’s a strange idea. Given that a trip to Azerbaijan in the Europa League is mitigation for poor performances these days, it’s strange to hear McClaren say that.
Because Newcastle find themselves in a similar situation. A situation where even winning games isn’t a good thing, because it doesn’t bode well long term.
I said football is about winning, but there is one caveat. Football is about winning over the long term. Even in an age of managerial sackings and short-termism, the league still spreads over 38 games, and a season still lasts nine months. So even if football is about winning points and not about simply playing well, it’s about doing that for a whole year.
So when Newcastle were outplayed by Bournemouth but still took the points, and when they played terribly against Liverpool – who were equally bad – and took the points, then you could forgive them for that if they weren’t playing so badly to begin with.
When teams like Manchester City or Arsenal play badly and grind out a win we praise them; because ‘that’s what champions do’. Yet when Newcastle do it, it’s not the same. It feels more like they’ve won those two games in spite of themselves, rather than through sheer dogged determination.
Sometimes you can tell a lot from the performances even in victory. Newcastle can’t just sweep it under the rug and slide into a state of relief at a win. They should be in a state of alarm at how badly they played, and think that if they play that badly again they aren’t likely to win.
In fact, if they play that badly for the rest of the season, they’ll go down. If they beat Liverpool, that wasn’t because they’re good enough to beat teams like Liverpool week in and week out. It’s just that Newcastle are a stopped clock.