When A Good Start Becomes A Real Title Challenge

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Saturday’s match at Arsenal marks the 10th Premier League game – and Liverpool enter it in the top 3. Such big matches have been missing in recent years.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 5, 2013: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring the second goal against Crystal Palace during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Every team hits a good run of form at some point during the long and arduous Premier League season. This is referred to as a “purple patch” among a handful of other descriptions. Whatever you may call it, each team experiences this in its own way. However, in regards to a strong start, it is universally accepted that pundits and fans alike must wait at least 10 games into the season before making any judgments. That’s more than a quarter of the season, and it is at this point that the true contenders begin to slowly distance themselves from the field.

In regards to Liverpool, their massive clash with Arsenal on Saturday marks the tenth game of the campaign. The Reds are currently behind Chelsea on goal difference, sporting a strong 6-2-1 record. They sit only two points behind the Gunners at the top of the table and have sat on top of the standings for a handful of weeks already. You can sense something has changed at Anfield. There is a refreshing optimism in the air, and with each victory more and more people begin to dream of more than just a Top 4 berth. The potent strike partnership of the lethal Daniel Sturridge and the mercurial Luis Suarez has proved too much for defences thus far.

Sturridge leads the league with 8 goals while Suarez sits 3rd with 6 goals since returning from suspension. With such a cerebral strike force, Liverpool will be in with a chance regardless of the opposition. Once the magician that is Philippe Coutinho returns from injury, the sky is the limit for the attack at Liverpool.

Looking at the back, Brendan Rodgers seems to have discovered the best defensive selection, which is 3 at the back.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2013: Liverpool's Kolo Toure in action against Southampton during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A revitalised Martin Skrtel has swelled the ranks at the back. New boys Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho have settled in quickly. Toure in particular did not take long to win over the Reds faithful with some commanding performances that have long been missing at the back of past Liverpool setups. I get just as much satisfaction from watching one of the countless crunching tackles dished out by Sakho that would take out a wild boar, as much as I enjoy a slaloming Suarez run.

As loved as he is by Liverpool fans, Pepe Reina had been wildly inconsistent in goal during recent seasons, which saw the club drop valuable points all over the place. His replacement, Simon Mignolet, has been nothing short of outstanding. He has brought stability to the Liverpool goal, which in turn allows his teammates to take more risks knowing they are protected at the final hurdle.

Saturday’s match with Arsenal will go a long way to showing whether or not Liverpool are a legitimate threat at the top of the table. A win at the Emirates would instill a newfound confidence in the side, which could only lead to positive results. A loss would see their momentum curtailed significantly. These are the types of matches that have been missing at Anfield in recent years.

These “Top of the Table Clashes” don’t come along very often and they should rightly be cherished. You may forgive some Liverpool fans for being highly optimistic at this point in time. It’s understandable following the numerous frustrations in recent memory. Despite all the fanfare and success, Rodgers has kept his team in check, focusing on the next game. It would make sense for complacency to settle around the squad, but we have seen nothing of the sort thus far. There is a rugged determination within the team to continue their fine form. It’s as if they have realised what success tastes like and now they do not want the buffet to end. They are pushing to be at the head of the table.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday September 2, 2012: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers and Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There will be pitfalls throughout the season, there is no doubt. A quick look at the shock 1-0 defeat to Southampton earlier this season would verify this idea. Every team has its peaks and valleys; it’s how teams handle the valley’s that define them. The Reds followed their lone defeat of the season by going on the road to the Stadium of Light and soundly beating Sunderland 3-1 on the strength of a Suarez brace coupled with yet another Sturridge goal.

Recent Liverpool teams would probably have struggled to bounce back and found themselves mired in a quickly growing rut. Not this team. This team has the cutting edge that has been missing on the red side of Merseyside for too long. In their defence, this tremendous run began in the second half of last season and it has carried over to this year.

There will, however, be critics who say they need to see more before dubbing this team, and that is fair enough. It is possible this team sinks back to earth and gets in a scrap for 4th place. At this point, that must still be the focus. Talks of a title hunt must be put on the back burner until later in the season, but the Top 4 should be on the mind every day.

Things have dramatically improved at Liverpool over the past 14 months. Their Best XI are good enough to beat any team in the league, while the bench must improve, there is still talent that is hungry to prove themselves. They have two surefire scoring machines leading the charge. Steven Gerrard is directing traffic from the middle of the park with a youthful enthusiasm not seen since 2008/09.

The defence is as strong as it’s been in a long while, and Brendan Rodgers has a plethora of options he can turn to if needed. Mignolet is one of the better goalkeepers in the Premier League. Everything is there for the team to contend, and with nobody separating from the pack, why can’t Liverpool be in the discussion?

It’s a sign of the unbelievable strides this club has taken that we are even having this discussion in the first place. Enjoy it while it lasts, there is no guarantee it’ll stay long.

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