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History repeats for Liverpool, 36 years on – could it be a title omen?

Stood in the centre of the ring, going punch for punch, Liverpool and Man City are cutting a footballing image of Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvellous Marvin Hagler, as they trade blows in the Premier League title race.

An irresistible force up against an immovable object, the gauntlet is thrown down by one of them, only to be picked up by the other and tossed back.

We have four more rounds of this to go, and the punchline at the end will be one of immense pleasure or a pronounced pain.

Even then, there is a very good chance that the two protagonists will not be done with each other, with the prospect of a Paris rematch looming just six days after the tallying up of domestic points is completed.

It’s all a bit 1985/86 in many respects.

Two teams locked in a battle for the title, the same two teams that will potentially contest the showpiece cup final of the season the weekend after the league is to be decided.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Manchester City's manager Josep 'Pep' Guardiola (R) embraces Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Teams that reside in the northwest; teams that play in red and blue.

Three-and-a-half decades ago, it was Liverpool that prevailed on both fronts, having clawed their way back into a title race that had earlier been both Man United’s and Everton’s to lose.

It was the very best of times to be at high school; back then, the decisive shift in balance came during a midweek round of games, when Kenny Dalglish took his team to Filbert Street to face Leicester City, while Howard Kendall took his Everton side to the Manor Ground, where they went up against Oxford United on the very same night.

Liverpool had gone top of the First Division on Easter Monday with a Steve McMahon-inspired win, ironically at home to City, on an afternoon when Everton were at Old Trafford, being held to a goalless draw.

Only goal difference separated the two rivals, although Everton boasted a game in hand. It was close, but the destiny of the title still rested in the possession of our rivals.

Fixture lists and league tables were studiously scrutinised.

Liverpool's Ian Rush celebrates after putting his team in front against Everton (Picture by: Peter Robinson / EMPICS Sport)

Apart from a span of 24 hours in mid-April, when an Everton victory at Vicarage Road against Watford temporarily put them top until Liverpool reclaimed the lead the following night at Luton, this is the way it stayed for the next four weeks.

Four days prior to Liverpool and Everton heading to Leicester and Oxford respectively, the first twist in the tale came.

Kendall and his squad headed to the East Midlands, where they were held to a goalless draw by Nottingham Forest, while Liverpool dismantled Birmingham at Anfield, on a day when Gary Gillespie plundered an unlikely hat-trick.

A two-point lead was now Liverpool’s, although Everton still had their precious game in hand – a home encounter with an ebullient West Ham, which was set for the Monday night beyond Liverpool’s last game of the league season at Chelsea.

It was an odd situation.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 3, 2019: A blue an red front door of neighbours in a local street to the two stadiums of Everton and Liverpool pictured before the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 233rd Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Liverpool had two to play and were sat two points clear at the top, but even a victory in both games would not be enough to take the title should Everton win their remaining three, the last two of those to take place at Goodison Park.

In such circumstances, you are left in a helpless bubble.

You can only win the games you play; you assess your rivals’ remaining fixtures, and you view them in terms of hurdles to clear, hoping against hope that one will trip them up, all the while praying that your own team navigates its own obstacles without faltering.

At times, each fixture, be it ours or theirs, leaves you sick to the pit of your stomach, as the mood music lifts then dips with each passing round of games, sensations that intensify as the finish line draws ever closer.

Three-and-a-half decades ago, the destiny of the title fell into our hands late in the day.

As Liverpool were cruising to a 2-0 victory on a Wednesday evening in Leicester, just 10 days prior to the FA Cup final, Everton were slipping to a shock 1-0 defeat at Oxford, thanks to a Les Phillips winner two minutes from time.

Kenny Dalglish, Jan Molby and Ronnie Whelan congratulate Ian Rush (second l) on one of his two goals vs. Everton in FA Cup Final 1986 (Picture by Peter Robinson EMPICS Sport)

Everton’s game had kicked off 15 minutes before Liverpool’s, and the news of Phillips’ goal was received at Filbert Street with a spontaneous outburst of joy in the away end, just as Gillespie was rolling a sedate pass across the back line to Alan Hansen.

With the rarity of occasions where two title-chasing teams now play simultaneously, it was the type of footballing aesthetic that has been largely lost to the game, just like shirts being numbered one to 11, or half-time only lasting for 10 minutes.

In terms of the 2021/22 contest, we are still looking to the hurdles that our rivals and ourselves will need to clear in order to take the glory.

Knowing what your rival has already done before you enter the field of play does dilute the race, though. It permits a thinking time that simply wasn’t there in 1985/86.

Interestingly, when looking for omens of the past, the Midlands will play its part again this time around, as a midweek round of games is looming on the horizon that will take Liverpool and City to Aston Villa and Wolves respectively, within 24 hours of one another.

2J6BM3T Liverpool's Naby Keita (centre) celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game with team-mates Andrew Robertson (left) and Luis Diaz (right) during the Premier League match at St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. Picture date: Saturday April 30, 2022.

Liverpool’s win at Newcastle was impressive on many fronts.

Five changes to the lineup absorbed without blinking, Jurgen Klopp’s men were clearly the better team, and the narrowness of the scoreline made no noticeable impact on the players.

Confidence is at an all-time high, and we just need to deliver our lines perfectly across these final few weeks.

As the number of games remaining diminishes the more the odds will be stacked against us, however, but the prize can still be ours, as long as we keep piling on the pressure.

If the Premier League title is to elude us, then we need to make sure that Pep Guardiola and his team are made to stretch themselves to the very limits.

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