Liverpool’s incredible run of results has seen them catch up and keep up with the top three. Is it time to believe this could be our year? Gareth Crimmins writes…
As John Terry peeled away after his desperately late winner against Everton a familiar consensus revealed itself again. Jose Mourinho knows what it takes to win a league title.
Chelsea had been largely outplayed at home, looked toothless in attack throughout, but a 1-0 scoreline concluding an almost flashpoint free contest, is the hallmark of any serious title challenger.
Flash forward 24 hours and Liverpool winning by the same margin, earning the same amount of points and elevating their goal difference by the same quantity as Mourinho’s ruthless winning machine seems to have given rise to more reasons as to why they can’t win this year’s Premier League title than their threat being genuine.
But this season has presented a myriad of achievements Liverpool can’t reach.
Having finished the previous four seasons 7th, 6th, 8th and 7th, this trepidation is not without cause. No team has ever propelled themselves to a league title when the season prior did not even warrant European qualification, in the Premier League era.
The subscribers to doubt have had their case more acutely focused this weekend, because despite scoring four goals on Sunday, three mistake riddled goals were conceded.
“Up until now we have got away with it [poor defending]. It is not about coaching, the way we concede goals. The way we concede isn’t structural, it is down to mistakes and decision-making,” was Brendan Rodgers’ uncharacteristically potent assessment of his teams defensive performance.
There’s no question that a team chasing a league title, having scored 70 goals, more than any other team, should have a healthier goal difference than +35. Yet the reality is, only Manchester City‘s is superior.
Initially the most justifiable reason was that with a comparably thin squad to the three above them, Liverpool simply would not have the personnel to maintain the chase throughout the 38 game marathon.
Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Phillipe Coutinho and their entire back-line have been injured for considerable lengths of time, the latter issue unquestionably a factor in their defensive. Liverpool did not crumble in their absence.
Liverpool are four points off top.
Points would begin to evaporate once Luis Suarez’s assault on all Premier League goal records inevitably decelerated. One goal in five games, seemed an unfathomable discontinuation of goal scoring form compared to the 23 in 19 that proceeded it.
However those five games have seen 16 other Liverpool goals, with Daniel Sturridge scoring in a rhythmic pattern not even Suarez has matched. Liverpool have looked as much a one man team now, as they did while Suarez served his suspension.
Liverpool have won many admirers this campaign, with enough evidence to suggest they can vanquish any team in the league.
Similarly Liverpool will inevitably fall short of a Man City team that have scored one goal in three games, including failure to penetrate a Norwich defence that Suarez alone scored four against.
Ultimately though, any title challenge will surely be derailed by Brendan Rodgers’ inability to win big games.
As Arsenal proved last season, an inability to win games against your closest rivals but perfecting the art of flat track bullying, can still be enough to secure 4th place.
But will cost you any prospect of wearing gold on your jersey next year. Liverpool themselves have become the consummate exponent of dismissing teams beneath them.
In an unfortunate episode of scheduling, two big games in succession after Christmas did see Rodgers fail to acquire any points against two big sides.
Liverpool went to the Etihad on Boxing Day top of the league, but despite mirroring the original Rocky, by the time they left Stamford Bridge three days later, they were six points from top, in 4th.
Since that date, that gap has never widened. Liverpool’s retort to back to back defeats, for the first time in Rodgers’ reign, has been six wins and two draws in eight games.
The outstanding form in the league. Neither the response or the behaviour of a team that can not win the league.
So in a season of feats Liverpool could not attain, but have, there is now 11 games left to secure the one they haven’t for 24 years. Keep winning the next game and the impossible becomes the reality.
Next up is Southampton. The team Liverpool can not beat.