Liverpool have elbowed their way back into the English Premier League elite for the first time since the 2008-09 season, when they lost the league by a miserly four points to Manchester United. Regardless of what may happen in their coming four matches, The Reds can consider this to be a landmark season.
Where the Liverpool of old would simply hope to defend a 1-0 lead until the final whistle, this term Brendan Rodgers has made attack the best form of defense. Agreed, Liverpool were by some way the second best team in the 2nd half of Sunday’s win against Manchester City, but their season over all has illustrated the aforementioned state of mind.
In respect to that match, having secured a 2-0 lead over City at half time, it seemed to have dawned on Liverpool that the Premier League title may well be within reach and nerves appeared to have gotten the better of them for the second 45 minutes. Passes were erratic, and City capitalized by closing the ball down quickly, pressuring Liverpool’s defense and pinning them back to within their own half, and even in their own penalty area for much of that second stanza.
Though City leveled matters at 2-2 by the hour mark, few would have banked on a third Liverpool goal, but Philippe Coutinho had the presence of mind to stay forward and was thus able to pounce on Vincent Komapny’s mishit clearance late on. This highlights what Brendan Rodgers has instilled in his team in training. Personally, I would have bet the farm on Kompany hoofing the ball well into opposition territory, but The Reds always, ALWAYS, seem to have a man up front waiting for some kind of defensive lapse.
I mentioned in my previous article what Rodgers has brought (back) to Liverpool since his arrival and how he’s developed and molded the team into something to be proud of, but one simply cannot heap enough praise on the manager. To have raised Liverpool from 7th place mediocrity, to challenging for the Premier League within twelve months is simply unprecedented – especially considering the finances both Chelsea and Man City have at their disposal. I would even go so far as to say that, on paper at least, Manchester City should never lose a game.
Nevertheless, Liverpool would now have to extend their current winning streak from 10 games to fourteen if they are to clinch the title, especially as City are unlikely to drop points again in an effort to reclaim league glory. Having that said, City do have to travel to both Everton and a resurgent Crystal Palace before the season’s end.
But one simply cannot rule out Liverpool setting a new club and league record by recording 14 consecutive victories, especially not with the manner in which they’ve broken records to get to this stage of the season. With four games to go, The Reds are now only 6 goals away from their best-ever goals tally of 99, recorded in the 1961-62 season.
But, as Steven Gerrard and Jon Flanagan have said: Liverpool haven’t won anything yet. Given that Crystal Palace have already claimed Chelsea’s scalp at Selhurst Park, and that they’ve won their last three on the trot, Manchester City and Liverpool are sure to travel to London with a degree of trepidation.
Manchester City will also be keenly aware of what Everton may have in store at Goodison Park at the beginning of May, given Everton’s current winning streak. And that the likes of Sunderland, Palace, West Brom and Aston Villa will all be desperate to stave off relegation when City face those teams.
As a side note, three out of Liverpool’s four remaining fixtures take place after their fellow title challengers have played. Meaning that either Chelsea or Man City are likely to return to the Premier League summit for a few hours at least, and that the pressure will be on Brendan Rodgers’ charges to win and keep winning.
Chelsea play host to Sunderland on Saturday, though they will also have one eye on the Champions League fixture against Atletico Madrid in a week’s time, and should thus take care not to slip up against Gus Poyet’s side.
They then travel to fortress Anfield, and again have to consider the return leg of the Champions League semifinal at Stamford bridge barely three days after facing Liverpool.
The thing is that both Chelsea and Man City have experienced managers who’ve been in the thick of title races before, and both have come out on top at one point or another. Jose Mourinho, while desperate to win his first Champions League crown with Chelsea, will be just as determined to keep pace with the league leaders in the event of a slip-up.
Manuel Pellegrini has seen it all, barring success in England, but with a managerial career that spans close to thirty years and the great many accolades that go with it, it’s only a matter of time before he finds success in Blighty.
Liverpool haven’t been involved in a title race since that ’08-09 season, and they will be anxious to not have history repeat itself. But there is a heap of pressure that comes with a 24-year wait for league success, especially in the wake of what happened and how close they came in 2009.
Brendan Rodgers keeps saying that his focus is on securing champions league football and that the title chase is secondary, and that as a result he’s not feeling any pressure – but Liverpool are leading the chase with the end in sight. And that means there is pressure, and lots of it.
Quite aside from fans’ growing expectations and what gets said in the media, the thought of slipping up will remain in the players’ minds. Chelsea are a scant two points adrift, while City are effectively only one point behind given their games in hand.
The trouble with leading any race is that there’s only two places to look: over your shoulder and at the finish line. And when the threat of losing is that close … well let’s just leave it there, shall we?
God, I love this game!