These are heady times at Anfield. The Premiership race is effectively down to three teams now, and Liverpool are one of them. Is this a credible return to the glory years? Andrew McGoff, the resident Liverpool fan, opens up.
Current state of play
My last LFC blog was when Liverpool were top of the EPL at Christmas: As fans, we were surprised with how well Liverpool were doing, particularly when compared to previous seasons, as even the top 4 seemed like it would be a step too far.
Next thing you know, we lose (under controversial circumstances!) to Man City (27/12) and then Chelsea (30/12) and find ourselves down in 5th place, 6pts off the top. It was certainly a good wakeup call and allowed us, as fans, to be realistic that we still had a bit to do to be considered back amongst the elite in the PL. There was excitement that we would have a strong transfer window which would help propel us back up the table, and give us a chance to dream of the title…however, we were in for a massive shock when it transpired that we weren’t able to sign any players, and the doom and gloom set in.
No fan could have predicted what was to happen next, Liverpool went on an amazing run of results. We are now back up to 2nd in the league, and are unbeaten in the league in 2014, winning 7 games now on the bounce. Our last 12 games read WWDWDWWWWWWW and include some big wins against quality sides Arsenal (5-1), Everton (4-0), Southampton (3-0) and Man Utd (3-0).
No matter how much opposition fans want to discount us, or LFC fans don’t want to believe it, you just cannot deny the fact that we are in the mix. We are 1pt off the top, and 11pts above 5th placed Everton. With Chelsea now losing against Palace and City drawing with Arsenal, if we win our remaining games we win the title! Let that sink in…
How have we got here
The squad has a strong belief in the gaffer, Brendan Rodgers, and he has a lot of faith and belief in his players. Steven Gerrard was recently quoted as saying “He manages every single player. His one-to-one management is the best I have known. He makes you go out on to the pitch feeling a million dollars, full of confidence and belief.”
Rodgers shows this by being able to get that little bit extra out of the guys in the squad, so much so that players like Jordan Henderson, John Flanagan and Raheem Sterling are being talked about as certainties for the England WC squad. He reinvigorated Stevie G’s career by creating a new role for him and created a devastating partnership up top with Suarez and Sturridge. A lot of people didn’t think he could accommodate these two players in the same team, but he (and they) have proved their doubters wrong! Suarez has scored 28 goals in the league (0 penalties) which puts him 6 goals shy of the current record of 34 goals in a season. Suarez also has 11 assists which shows he is becoming a more rounded player. Sturridge has 20 goals for the season making this season the first time in 50 years that we’ve had 2 strikers score 20 goals or more.
The belief Rodgers has in the team was summed up when he was quoted as saying “we know we can go into any game and, if we fall behind, it should give us confidence that if we stay calm, stay focused, we can win it.”
It can easily sound like a clichéd phrase, but Rodgers really has been a tactical genius over these last 3 months. Whilst opposition managers may be able to guess what side we will put out, Rodgers keeps them guessing on what formations he will play those selected players in. He changes tactics depending on the opposition, and also does so throughout a game based on how it is playing out. His favoured positions seem to be 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2, or a 4-4-2 diamond.
As a result of tailoring how we line up we are currently the top scorers in the EPL with 84 goals, 25 goals up on this stage last season. Our highest total in the Premier League era. With only 57% of those goals coming from our much feared strike force, it shows more players are now contributing to the scoresheet (last season we heavily relied on Suarez goals) and that we have become a more balanced side. As Rodgers said this week “We’ve had Suarez out and won games, we had Gerrard out and won games, Sturridge out and Coutinho out and won games.”
What lies ahead
Looking at the games to go for the current top 4, Liverpool has by far the hardest run in. Prior to this weekend’s games we had to face 4 teams in the top 10. Chelsea has the ‘easiest’ run in, only playing 2 teams in the top 10 (Liverpool and Stoke)
Liverpool’s remaining games are: Spurs (h), West Ham (a), City (h), Norwich (a), Chelsea (h), Palace (a), Newcastle (h).
What sits in our favour is that we play our ‘hard’ games versus Spurs, Manchester City and Chelsea at home. We have turned Anfield into the fortress it was in the 70s and 80s; winning 11 of the last 12 games played there. The Kop has once again become the 12th man, with fans turning up pre match to welcome the Liverpool coach into the ground as they did in the glory days of old.
One thing that has worked in our favour has been a lack of extra games. We’ve not had to worry about European trips and the elimination from both the FA and League Cups took pressure off our thin squad.
In previous years we have struggled against mid to lower table teams, often appearing to switch off. This year we have been much more clinical but draws versus West Brom and Aston Villa have shown us that teams can be hard to break down. As an example, in our last home game against Sunderland they started with 8 men behind the ball, 5 defenders and 2 defensive / holding midfielders. Sunderland were happy to let LFC attack them and play for a draw. Liverpool had to be very patient, and whilst they dominated the game, it took them a long time to break Sunderland down and finally score. A big concern this season has been our fragile defence. We have leaked goals at times (3 v Cardiff, 3 v Swansea, 3 v Stoke) and have had to believe that we’ll simply outscore the opposition come fulltime.
It’s certainly a cliché, but we have 7 cup finals to play now, every game as important as the next. Teams who are ‘safe’ are more likely to park the bus and play for damage limitation, as opposed to teams who are pushing for European spots or to stay out of the relegation zone.
Do we believe we can do it
Liverpool fans are certainly starting to think that we are in the title race. We are exceeding pre-season expectations. We are second on the table with 7 games to go. Anything can happen.What do the manager, players, supporters and neutral parties believe?
Brendan Rodgers has been his diplomatic self quoted as saying this about our title chances:
- “It’s up to other teams to lose, so we will keep working hard”
- “I’m not playing it down, I don’t play silly mind games. If City win their games, they win. It’s simple maths”
- “We need the fans to stay calm. I know when you want something so much that’s easier said than done”
- “We are second, I’m not going to say we are not in it because I’d be lying”
Steven Gerrard wants to believe the title is within our grasp:
- “We’ve showed that we are genuine contenders and we are going to fight to the end for this”
- “We believe that we can win the league”
- “I’m trying not to dare to believe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s flashed in and out of the mind from time to time but I think with experience I have learned this can be a ruthless league and one bad performance or one bad error could lead to a draw or a defeat. We are in a title race. We can’t get away from that, we can’t deny that as it would just be stupid but from experience I would never get carried away.”
King Kenny wrote an article where he said:
- “The expectations around the club have been raised, certainly, but that’s only because the level of their performances has been raised”
- “They’re only in the position they deserve to be in. It is time people started taking them seriously”
- “There is still much to be decided in the title race but everything points to the fact that it will be decided on Merseyside”
Thoughts and actions from Liverpool fans:
- Belief has been plain to hear both at Anfield and at away grounds with the following chants ringing around the grounds “And now you’re gonna believe us, We’re gonna win the league”, “We are Liverpool Tra la la la la…Poerty in Motion Tra la la la la; We’re the greatest team in the land”
- For our last home game versus Sunderland fans congregated outside the ground to welcome the team coach with banners, flags, pyro and chants. This was last seen during the glory days (that we LFC fans are great at talking about!)
- Fans are worried about our leaky defence. If we can concede 3 v Cardiff then how many will we concede versus Man City / Chelsea?
- One fan commented; “Winning all games also means defeating City. Do we have the squad depth? No. Can we do it? Certainly”
- Some fans seem to believe it is a bridge too far. 7 games and 21 points is a lot to play for. Top 4 still seems to be the goal.
What do others think:
- Dan Roan – Chief Sports Correspondent, BBC News (post Chelsea’s loss to Palace) “What a great day for Liverpool, who know it’s finally in their hands – win their last 7 games…& they’ll be champions”
- BBC Match of the Day vote – 57% believe LFC will win the title
- Mourinho – “Liverpool, since the beginning of the season, have one match every week…This is a big, big, big advantage”
- General consensus from rival fans on twitter is that LFC have little chance of winning the league – dodgy defence, too many big games to play, not enough squad depth, too reliant on Suarez, haven’t beaten our title rivals
What do I think
It’s a 3 horse race between City, Chelsea and LFC.
Chelsea have the experience of a manager who has been there before, players who have won the league and know what it’s like to face the pressure of the run in, and the easier fixtures. I’ve just seen that they lost to Palace this morning which will have added extra pressure to their group as they are now reliant on other teams dropping points to win the league.
Manchester City have outstanding class across the pitch and good squad depth. They are hitting their straps at the right time and don’t have the Champions League as a distraction any more. City are the most recent side of the 3 to have won the league and know you have to play until the last minute of the last game to be in with a chance.
LFC have a young squad and a young manager who have not been in this position before. There is not a lot of squad depth so if we lose a big player now to injury or suspension then it will be very hard to get up for 7 more wins.
Whilst my heart thinks we are genuine title contenders, my head says that we will definitely drop points in one of our remaining games, most likely against either Chelsea or City who will come to Anfield with the hope of taking a point.
Finishing in the top 3 would be a massive achievement for a side that has underperformed for a few years now, and bringing back Champions League nights to Anfield would make LFC fans very happy.
We need to take it one game at a time, but the more we keep winning, the more hopes will build, after all…
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