In case you haven’t noticed, Liverpool have a wonderful chance of winning their first league title since 1990 this year.
The Reds’ transformation under Brendan Rodgers has been nothing short of remarkable and the Northern Irishman deserves some serious credit for the way in which he has turned his side from a team competing in the mid-table doldrums into genuine title contenders.
What makes Liverpool’s resurgence even more impressive is the fact that no one even saw it coming. Even after an impressive first half of the season which saw Rodgers’ side pick up 39 points and score three goals in a game on nine separate occasions, most were still less than keen to suggest that this could be Liverpool’s year.
As 2013 turned into 2014, I made some outlandish predictions for the title race – predictions that are looking more and more foolish by the day. On the first of January I wrote here that “talk of a Liverpool title tilt was extremely premature”, before going on to predict that Rodgers’ team would finish in fourth.
How wrong was I? Liverpool are now in that enviable position of having their destiny in their own hands. Win all their remaining games and they will lift their first title for 24 years. Of course, this is easier said than done. The Reds must still welcome both Chelsea and Man City to Anfield, and it would take a very optimistic Liverpool fan to predict six points from those two clashes.
I also wrote in January that “unless [Rodgers’] team can beat the teams around them, they are going to struggle to be looked at as serious contenders”, and ultimately this prophecy has come to pass. Successfully negotiate their home games against the two most dangerous teams in the division and the title is most likely to end up at Anfield.
The reality is, though, it’s not going to be that easy.
Although Liverpool are on an outstanding run of form, it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to win all of their remaining games. If they were able to achieve that feat, they would equal the record winning streak of 14 games set by Arsenal in 2002. The fact that only one other team has managed to win that amount of games in a row indicates the difficulty of such a challenge.
The other compelling reason why Liverpool’s title challenge is not perhaps as simple as merely winning the rest of their games is that aside from Chelsea and Man City, they’ve still got a few other difficult games to go.
Their run-in continues on Sunday against West Ham United, and although Rodgers will be confident of overcoming the Hammers, the fact that the game will be played at Upton Park does even the sides up somewhat. Of the 19 points dropped by Liverpool so far this season, 17 of them have been away from Anfield. The Reds have failed to extract maximum points from away fixtures against such luminaries as Swansea, Hull and West Bromwich Albion as well as losing their three big away tests against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City. If Rodgers’ side have any sort of weakness, it’s definitely away from home.
West Ham will play the way that Sam Allardyce-managed teams always play: backs-to-the-wall, route one, long-ball football and it will be interesting to see how Liverpool cope with the Hammers’ rough-housing tactics. The defence Liverpool will face at the Boleyn Ground will be a world away from the suicidal high lines favoured by Arsenal and Tottenham in their latest maulings at the hands of Liverpool, with Allardyce favouring a deep defensive line that forces the opposition to commit men to the attack. This will not be as conducive to the fantastic attacking talents of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling; and Rodgers will be well aware of that. To win at West Ham, teams invariably have to win ugly.
Liverpool have played arguably the most beautiful football of all the sides in the Premier League this season, but Saturday’s showdown with West Ham will be another acid test for Rodgers’ side: can they win without the beautiful football? If they can, they’ll march one step closer to the title before their clash with the Citizens next week. Win that, and they really will be favourites.
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