A huge month in Liverpool’s season kicks off this Sunday with the visit of Manchester City to Anfield. The crucial four weeks culminates with a home game against high-flying Aston Villa on 22nd March. With both legs of the Champions League tie against Real Madrid and the small matter of a trip to Old Trafford, as well as further league fixtures against Middlesbrough and Sunderland, taking place in between.
Of course all games will take on an added air of importance as the season nears its crunch time. But the ensuing weeks more so than any are likely to define whether or not season 08/09 is ultimately a success.
A season which has been transcended by uncertainty both on and off the field and ‘“ perhaps at times overly abrasive ‘“ criticism of the team and particularly the management, could yet bare success. The club has not found itself so well placed in the league standings as we approach the final stages of the season for too many years. Whilst Man United will admittedly remain favourites, the team has at least gone some way towards meeting the demands we, the fans, have sought, in maintaining a genuine title challenge.
Whether this title challenge remains intact come the final few weeks of the season will depend much on the results achieved over this crucial month. Putting to one side the obvious significance of a two-legged clash with Real, each of the Premier League encounters over the next few weeks are certain to be crucial, and subsequently tense and nervy affairs. The Reds must keep pace with the current league leaders over the course of the next few fixtures in order to ensure the the crunch clash at Old Trafford on 14th March maintains the significance which it currently demands.
Recent victories over Chelsea and Portsmouth have been gained through steal rather than style. An attribute which is of course important for an successful team. But games against the likes of Man City and Middlesbrough could provide a platform for improved performances from both individuals and the collective, which would do no harm for confidence going into clashes against Man United and Villa.
This weekends visit of Man City could well suit the cause. City are unlikely to come Anfield with the intention of frustrating and stifling Liverpool’s creativity, as many others have sought to do this season. This has been the Reds biggest problem as the stats allude ‘“ 5 draws out of 12 homes matches and 19 goals scored. Sure, City have a number of dangerous attacking outlets which should not be dismissed, as they demonstrated in the first-half at Eastlands back in October, but their dismal away record speaks for their problems. This should be an opportunity for Liverpool to demonstrate their positive intent, but, as we have learnt this season, only time will tell if this is indeed the case.
As has been well emphasised in the media recently; achieving the required results may well ride on the fitness and form of key players. The fitness of Fernando Torres has been an ongoing concern. With options so thin in the attacking department, we must hope that Nando’s injury problems have been put to rest for the time being. We can at least take some comfort from the fact that Torres has returned unscathed from international duty for once. The Reds have also been boosted by the sooner-than-anticipated return to fitness of Steven Gerrard. With the club captain potentially even available for inclusion in the squad for this weekends game. Gerrard will as ever be the driving force behind any possible success which the club can achieve this season. A factor which is occasionally taken for granted by some, but has been emphasised time and again yet again this season.
Man United‘s current form seems ominous and it seems likely that the Reds will have to travel to Old Trafford and gain a positive result. Although, there is still plenty of football to be played this season, 13 league games to be exact. United are sure to drop some points along the way, Liverpool must ensure that they are in a position and fully prepared when any points are dropped. The task of securing a first league title in 19 years was always likely to be an extremely challenging one, even when points clear at the top of the table at the turn of the year. A relatively disappointing January has made this task all the greater and has left virtually no room for further error in the closing months of the campaign.
The Reds need to approach each game with belief and positivity if they are to go some way to meeting this challenge and holding any hope of claiming the ultimate prize. The position that the club currently finds itself in is one which the majority of fans would have gladly accepted back in August. Now that the platform for a challenge has been built the real challenge gets underway, hopefully starting with a positive result and performance against Manchester City on Sunday.