They are second in the league, four points off first place, and currently boast the league’s top two scorers and top two assisters, with the man leading both charts regarded as one of the best players in the world.
So with it all to play for in this final quarter, why is there any doubt about whether Liverpool can win the league?
Long suffering fans, their own manager, and even history itself, all play a part in the title contentions of Liverpool FC being talked about in such tepid fashion. But frankly, only a significant drop in form will leave them out of the running.
On paper, even the biggest sceptics cannot doubt that Liverpool are very realistic title contenders. The squad as a whole have coped with suspensions and injuries well enough to have kept them in the running but individual performances have been the biggest factor in the ascendance of Liverpool this season.
Luis Suarez has been nothing short of world class in nearly every single game he has played this season. Daniel Sturridge has become such a smooth finisher that many are shocked when he misses a chance. Steven Gerrard has become the league’s highest assister thanks to his imperious range of passing and set piece delivery that the two aforementioned forwards have benefitted from.
There are others that have also made significant individual contributions to Liverpool’s title chase. Jordan Henderson has improved drastically and started to fulfil his potential to such an extent he is very likely to be part of England’s world cup squad. Coutinho is living up to everything a Brazilian number 10 should be, showing creativity and skill consistently this season. Martin Skrtel is currently the highest scoring defender in the league (depending on what you classify Aston Villa’s number seven Leandro Bacuna as). Even the likes of Simon Mignolet, Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan have all played their part.
Brendan Rodgers must also take individual credit too. He has been proven right in his big pre-season decisions, such as forcing Luis Suarez to stay and sending out Pepe Reina on loan. He has also flitted drastically between formations (3-5-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3) this season but with no adverse effect on the team, proving his tactical astuteness. He was also smart enough to recognise that Gerrard should take up a deeper role, like most great midfielders through history have (Lothar Matthaus, Ruud Gullit, Paul Scholes, Andrea Pirlo etc). And all this was achieved whilst implementing a passing game throughout a squad full of young players and others that may not have been used to this style.
To further affirm Liverpool’s credentials as potential champions, of their remaining 10 games three of the five away fixtures are against teams in the bottom 16, whilst the other two are currently 10th (West Ham) and 7th (Man United). Even the Old Trafford fixture will not hold any fear for kopites, with most relishing the thought of taking on this nervous Man United side in their current form. Liverpool’s home fixtures will see the two title favourites – Man City and Chelsea – visit Anfield, in games which will most likely determine the league. With Liverpool having home advantage for these crucial fixtures, winning the league is a very real possibility.
Taking all this into consideration, are the majority – including many of their own fans – right to consider Man City and Chelsea favourites ahead of Liverpool?
Looking at the most important factors, it would have to be yes.
Firstly, both Man City and Chelsea have players that have already won the Premier League. During what is certain to be an ultra-tense end run to the season, this experience will be crucial. The likes of Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and John Terry have all led their sides to glory previously. They know what it takes and will ensure their squads do too. While Liverpool have Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure and Sturridge as former league winners, all played very limited roles the last time their respective former clubs did win the league. As for the managers, Jose Mourinho gives Chelsea a massive advantage in regards to having the knowledge to lead a team to winning the Premier League.
Secondly, Chelsea and City are at a different level to Liverpool in terms of squad strength. Although we are in the final phase of the season, there is still a long way to go and every player will have a part to play. The time may come when we see the difference between being able to call on the likes of Demba Ba, Willian, Edin Dzeko or James Milner, in comparison to Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas.
Finally, Liverpool must overcome their own hoodoo to win the league. Going 24 years without winning it places a huge monkey on the back of all associated with the club. Removing this always takes something special. Man United had their memorable win against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 that saw Brian Kidd and Sir Alex Ferguson dancing on the touchline to win United’s first league in 26 years. Chelsea set defensive records that still stand today in 2005 to break a 50 year league drought. Man City had their improbable last minute come-back to win the league on goal difference in 2012. In other words, to break out of such a barren spell takes a bit of magic.
The sheer presence of Steven Gerrard and the memories of Istanbul tell us that Liverpool can certainly conjure up this type of magic. What is required to pull it off is the humble support of every fan, the unerring effort of every player and a big slice of luck. Nerves are natural and bound to be frayed during this period known as “squeaky-bum time”, but this is something that Liverpool cannot let affect them if they want to be champions this season.
So in answer, can Liverpool win the league this season? Yes. They have the quality in their first XI and they realistically could not ask for a better set of fixtures. However, without the strength in depth, without the experience, it is going to take something incredibly special to make it happen.