Listen, we’re just taking each game as it comes. It’s all about the next one for us. We cannot look too far ahead.
These are the sort of lines that become more frequent in football parlance as any season reaches its climax.
You will not be able to move for cliches over the next two months — particularly as in the Premier League this run-in is as exciting as we have seen for some time.
And I am here to tell you that they are all complete rubbish, the little white lies trotted out by managers and players. As professionals, we always lean on these easy reflective one-liners. Fully focused on Saturday. Well, actually, we privately have our eyes on next week, where we stand a better chance of picking up some points. But we’re not telling you that.
It is human nature to look at the table. Whenever I was at a club trying to reach the Champions League or fight off relegation, you would always be studying the table and fixtures. Naturally.
Footballers all trot out little white lies, cliches and one-liners during interviews – even me!
‘We’re taking each game as it comes’ is complete rubbish – every single manager I played for, including Mark Hughes at Stoke, had a huge planner for the season, and we looked at the table
Everton are one of the teams in a fight against relegation – and they need to face up to that
You’re constantly looking at the fixtures — largely because they are on a massive board inside the manager’s office. Ah, we can win that game. Or that one looks tough, what do we need to pick up before then?
Every single manager I played for had a huge planner of the season, mapping it all out. They would always be looking at them, circling the winnable games and planning selection in advance — where and when to rotate, who to pick for specific matches. All that is talked about on a daily basis at training grounds.
Taking each game as it comes has never, ever been a thing. The Premier League is too meticulous for such a narrow attitude.
Mark Hughes had an interesting concept at Stoke City, which I thought was quite a good way of incentivising the squad. At the start of a couple of seasons, Mark gave us the set of fixtures and as a group, we had to methodically guess how many points the club would end up with each month.
We would always overestimate, which is only natural for a competitive group of players. Mark would be more conservative than the rest of us. We’d constantly monitor the totals throughout the season to see if we were up or down on our target. We had a couple of top-10 finishes doing that, before the wheels came off for different reasons — mainly recruitment.
Frank Lampard has genuine issues at Everton, who are not ‘too good to go down’
Mark had been sacked by the time it reached the final stretch during 2017-18, when we went down. Everybody says don’t panic in those situations. Let’s not panic. Then suddenly you’ve run out of time. Suddenly there are three games left and you have to win them all.
At this exact stage of that relegation season, the message was: we’ve got 10 games left, these are 10 cup finals. We went and drew the next one. Right, we have nine cup finals! We lost that. Eight cup finals! And again. Seven cup finals! It kept going and going.
By the final fortnight, we had to win each of our last three games — and handsomely too, given our inferior goal difference. We won one game in that last 10. It just gets away from you so quickly. Maybe we just weren’t cut out for cup finals.
Brentford’s win over Burnley has changed everything in the battle against the top-flight drop
Despite beating Norwich on Sunday, Leeds remain in trouble in this crazy season
That sort of thing will happen to one team, it always does, and the dogfight at the bottom this year is fierce and ever-changing.
Burnley were manufacturing a way out of it a few weeks ago, but are now probably favourites alongside Norwich and Watford to drop. To put this crazy season into context: I tipped Brentford for relegation hours before they beat Burnley on Saturday and that result has changed everything.
If there is one cliche I can get on board with, it is ‘six-pointer’ as those games are massive.
No team is ‘too good to go down’. There are genuine issues at Everton. And Leeds, despite yesterday’s win over Norwich, are in trouble.
I always feel that starting to panic earlier is beneficial. Realise you’re in a scrap, embrace it. The same thing applies to the games in hand — you end up viewing them as this safety blanket that does not exist if you’re down at the bottom.
Teams are down there because they don’t win football matches so relying on having a few more up your sleeve is a fallacy.
Liverpool’s game in hand, or Arsenal’s three in their quest for Champions League qualification, feel far more significant. The top-four battle is great, seesawing most weeks, and the title race — our first proper one for three years — will go to the wire.
Look at City’s run-in compared to Liverpool’s: it is a lot more attractive and I cannot see Pep Guardiola’s team losing any of those games outside of that tantalising clash between the two at the Etihad next month.
Manchester City have the easier run-in compared to Liverpool and I don’t see them losing
Liverpool should recognise that they probably need to win every single game to nick the title
You can see both teams winning every single match either side of that. And actually, I think they need to. This is what they do to each other: continue pushing and pushing.
Normally by now the majority of the division is fairly sewn up, or we at least have a fair idea of what to expect, yet this is the most open we have seen for a while. There have been loads of twists along the way, plenty of teams written off throughout the league only to come back from nowhere.
Everything is up for grabs, although unfortunately part of me does wonder whether that points to a general dip in quality beneath the runaway top two.
Like Harry at Pompey, Tuchel could lead exodus
The situation at Chelsea reminds me of my second spell at Portsmouth in 2008-09, which was fairly similar with uncertainty over the club’s ownership.
Basically the money stopped coming in that season, months after I re-signed. It developed into a fire sale — any sort of asset, gone. I fear for Chelsea because I saw it all unfold at Fratton Park.
It doesn’t affect you as a player to begin with. Go out there and do your job.
Thomas Tuchel could lead the Chelsea exodus just like Harry Redknapp did at Portsmouth
When Harry left for Spurs, the players knew something was up and it started a fire sale
But that all changed when Harry Redknapp decided to leave for Tottenham. Hang on, maybe he knows a lot more than we do. So, Thomas Tuchel holds the key here. Tuchel would have an excuse to seek a job elsewhere, and who could blame him? He would be an amazing statement for Manchester United.
Then it is a house of cards beneath him. Players like Romelu Lukaku, the guys who it has not really been working out for, can quite easily turn round and say the turmoil means I have to leave.
It can offer excuses to those who want to take them — and they will follow the manager’s lead on that.
My bowling skills prove I have a good throw for a big man!
I’ve written a bit about football’s language today and while we’re at it, I did like the old ‘good touch for a big man’. It is still a compliment and I’ll happily take those!
You could just say good touch, of course, but there always had to be an adjective attached to me. Beanpole striker. Lanky hitman.
I went 10-pin bowling with the kids this weekend and my style is similarly unorthodox on the lane. Good throw for a big man? Would that work? Suggestions on Twitter, please.