A colossal two and a bit weeks in a hugely eventful season is almost upon us. This run of five successive games, starting with the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday lunch time, could make-or-break Liverpool’s season in every sense. A much improved run of form in the last six weeks or so has given the whole club a long over-due lift, on the playing front at least, and has made the end of season run-in appear much more palatable than it may potentially have been.
5 consecutive league victories, accompanied by largely impressive performances, have followed the Barnsley debacle. And of course there’s been another monumental European triumph against the mighty Inter Milan to add to the ever-bulging scrap book. Whilst the victories over Inter acted to reaffirm the Reds elite status in European competition; the impressive domestic form has been achieved against sides that Liverpool should be beating ‘“ although of course this all too often isn’t consistently the case. Now comes the test of continuing the league form against the toughest opposition, and juggling this with a formidable quarter-final encounter with Arsenal.
It would perhaps have been more desirable if so many high profile games hadn’t occurred in such a short space of time, but with confidence flowing throughout the squad this tough sequence of games could in fact be beneficial. With the big players all on top form in time for the end of season; particularly Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, whose partnership is looking better with every game, and Javier Mascherano, whose been almost unsurpassable in recent weeks. Add to this some promising performances from the likes of Martin Skrtel, Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio and the whole club should be confident heading into this decisive stage of the season.
The timing seems perfect for Liverpool to prove that they are capable of defeating their main domestic rivals; something which, aside from a few exceptions, has thus far eluded the club under Benitez’s reign. Matches of this magnitude are so often surrounded with such hype and tension that they rarely live up to their billing and are more often than not tight, unspectacular games. The top teams are of course very evenly matched, both in defence and attack. It comes as no surprise that the teams who have scored the most goals (Man United 61, Arsenal 58, Tottenham Hotspur 58, Liverpool 55, Chelsea 53) and conceded the least (Man United 15, Liverpool 21, Arsenal 22, Chelsea 22) are the teams competing at the top of the league, with the exception of Spurs whose fans must have gained the most value for money if nothing else this season. But these games also seem to be so tight because of the cautious tactics employed by the managers, with neither side willing to gift a yard to the opposition. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a side were to abandon such cautious tactics. It generally therefore takes one mistake or one moment of inspiration/quick thinking to win one of these matches, something which Liverpool have more often than not failed under Rafa even in matches which they have dominated against Man United in particular.
So, just which of the two up coming games against the old enemies is the biggest and most significant?… In my opinion the greatest rivalry and hatred is always reserved for the Mancs. Of courses there’s the rivalry with Everton which comes with the territory when the clubs exist so geographically close (and the ‘˜Bitter Blues’) seem to take this rivalry particularly seriously). But, aside from the derby matches, I always get the sense that Everton are more the mildly irritating, less successful brother; whereas out-doing the arch enemy from across the East-Lancs road is most satisfying. Given the choice between a victory at Goodison Park or a win at Old Trafford (preferably via a last minute G Neville own goal in his first match back from injury) and, although it would be a close call, I’d have to choose beating the Mancs ‘“ and you get the sense the feeling is mutual. Perhaps that’s because such a win comes around far less frequently and also Man U have been competing with Liverpool at the top of the table far more regularly than Everton. Or just maybe it’s a general dislike for all things related to Man United!
This season the situation is slightly different however. Everton are of course much closer to the Reds in the league and the upcoming fixture will therefore hold significance far beyond local pride. The way the team is playing at the moment we should beat Everton at home fairly comfortably, but whether that is the case we shall have to see. A good result at Old Trafford will always be a highlight of any season and a United victory on Saturday could go along way towards helping them move one title closer to our precious record. So, it would seem that the match at Old Trafford this Sunday remains the most significant. Although wins in both games is what we will be aiming for, which would set us up very nicely for the ‘˜triple-header’ against Arsenal! Or is that just a little too optimistic?!…
If the current form of Torres, Gerrard, Mascherano and co. does continue into this crucial ‘˜crunch time’ of the season and results go our way then the prospect of a late impact on the title race is even a possibility! Although that of course is a big ‘˜if’. But just imagine how different the table could have looked at this stage ‘˜if’ a few of those mid-season draws could have been turned into wins. A victory over United on Sunday would go a long way towards rectifying that.