Liverpool climbing back onto the perch
When I was an assistant editor, I had an uncanny knack of being right with my sporting predictions. Find the archived version here.
Back in December, I had declared Liverpool could be considered title contenders. Now, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched a statement anymore.
The Reds had just demolished the north Londoners 5-0 at the end of the previous year and they have now completed a double over the same opponents with a four-goal win at Anfield on Sunday.
Attack seems to be the best form of defence in Brendan Rodgers’ notebook and that approach appears to have paid handsome dividends over the past four months.
Chelsea’s capitulation at Selhurst Park on Saturday has seen Rodgers’ men to go top of the table for the fourth time this season.
The visiting defenders, admittedly, put in an abject performance at Anfield on the night but Liverpool’s gung-ho attitude makes you ponder if they can finally deliver Steven Gerrard the one medal he’s been craving throughout his career.
As arch-rivals Manchester United look set to secure their lowest points total in the Premier League era, the Merseysiders could finally get to finish in the one spot Sir Alex Ferguson had famously knocked them off for over two decades.
For now, Liverpool are back on the perch.
Maverick Suarez lives up to his promise
Michael Dawson may have produced a poor first touch, Younes Kaboul may have floundered on the ball but it was ultimately Luis Suarez’s opportunism and a masterful shot that got the Uruguayan his 29th goal of the season.
In doing so, he has now scored the most goals by any Liverpool player within a domestic season in the Premier League era. Imagine how many more he could have scored had he not missed the first six games of the season.
But the past is the past and the mercurial striker has to score just three more goals to break the all-time record for most goals in a season held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Englishman’s record was achieved while Kenny Dalglish was in charge at Blackburn and the same man was in the stands as his successor at Anfield masterminded an eighth win on the trot.
Both men would gladly point at Suarez’s sterling form as being a key factor in Liverpool’s renaissance.
The star striker has endured a largely injury-free campaign but he deserves all the plaudits for turning a new leaf after a tumultuous two-and-a-half years at the club.
The club have done well to keep Suarez out of the spotlight as well and this has allowed him to concentrate on his football. And the South American has handsomely repaid the club faithful for their support during testing times.
“I signed my new contract because I’m very happy here and I want to stay where I’m enjoying football and life,” he told FourFourTwo magazine recently.
“This is my best season yet. I feel in a very good place, physically and mentally.
“Every day I feel better in this club. I hope to continue down this path because we want Champions League football for Liverpool and, personally speaking, I want to continue that mentality throughout the World Cup with Uruguay.
“I’d actually prefer not to win this Golden Boot and for Liverpool to qualify for the Champions League this season.”
Well, the Golden Boot is his for the taking and with six games left, he could yet lead Liverpool to more than just qualification for the Champions League.
The carefully chosen one
That was written on a banner describing Rodgers in a tongue-in-cheek reference to United’s moniker for their Scottish manager.
Rodgers must be credited for the turnaround in Liverpool’s fortunes. But man, did his methods take time.
At first, his possession-based footballing philosophy failed to stick with a side built by Dalglish where English industry was prized more than nimble-footedness and one-touch passing.
Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Couthinho and Raheem Sterling, however, are players that can understand the Northern Irishman’s ethos.
Furthermore, the focus on bolstering the attack when the defence was in dire need of improvements irked me quite a bit. The acquisitions of Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho as well as the emergence of Jon Flanagan, however, has shown that Rodgers has belatedly made strides in that department.
Indeed, although the defence is still a porous one, it’s telling that Lucas Leiva is hardly missed as the Liverpool defenders have perfected the art of instigating counter-attacks and hitting their opponents while they are on the backfoot.
Instead of a midfield enforcer, Rodgers has done well to convert Gerrard into a deep-lying playmaker such that the captain does not tire himself out with box-to-box runs and instead uses his long-range passing ability to produce admirable results.
Can the Reds settle back on the perch?
Despite all the fervour, I still maintain that Manchester City are the favourites to win the title. The Citizens have just too much quality in them and have an easier run of fixtures ahead.
Moreover, an injury to a member of the Liverpool attacking quartet (Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho) may not lessen the goals but they would definitely hamper the winning mentality present within the club.
City also have a much stronger back four and it is a fact that the team with the best defence usually prevails in the end. It can just take a mistake or two at the back with profligacy at the front to derail a side’s hopes as Jose Mourinho discovered earlier in the weekend.
Rodgers’ marauding Reds have already conceded 39 goals and only once has a team that has crossed the 40-goal mark gone on to win the league in the past decade.
The view from the top is a comforting one but only the result of City’s visit to Anfield on April 13 will determine if it’s more than just a temporary stay.
But heck, just as in the aftermath of the previous triumph over Spurs, Liverpool fans can rejoice in a moment that has come far too rarely in all the years of their support.
In any case, they have to remember that time (and a wealthy and supportive holding company) is on their side.
It took Ferguson seven years to knock the Reds off their perch but the fans of the club can take solace in the fact Liverpool are now earnestly on the climb back.