The old adage goes that the days start getting longer in April. While I know that they were referring to daylight, I’m learning that the same rule can be applied for football fans. I’m not used to seeing my beloved Liverpool sitting at the top of the table in April, controlling its own destiny to win its first title in 24 years, its 19th title overall, with only five matches remaining on the calendar. I think we need to take that adage a step further and add that the weeks are starting to get longer too. I’m struggling with the fact that it’s still only Tuesday!! These weeks are slower than a flanking defender trying to keep pace with Raheem Sterling! Come on weekend, already!!!
Another big win for the Reds on Sunday as I know you are all aware of the result. A lot of people were looking at that match as if it was going to be a walk in the park for Liverpool. Let me remind you that this is still the most competitive league in the world, and no game against any club is going to be easy. This is perhaps the biggest relegation battle in the history of the league, where any team in the bottom half of the table is just a short drought away from parachuting down to the Championship. These clubs are fighting for their Premiership lives. They won’t just roll over and die, and that makes them extremely dangerous. They get desperate for any result, as we saw against Sunderland. Teams with lesser quality have now seen the blueprint that Sunderland created, putting eight men in the defensive third of the field. Liverpool are a more dangerous team transitioning from the middle third into the attack, whether it be from a slicing run up the middle by Coutinho or a 40-yard bullet across the field from Gerrard. Negotiating short passes through a cauldron of opposing defenders doesn’t seem to generate as many great scoring chances for the Reds, and West Ham certainly took notice of that fact. It’s frustrating to watch, but I’m sure it’s much more frustrating for the players to experience. We all need to be patient, because I’m sure that we can expect much of the same when we travel to Norwich City and Crystal Palace in a few weeks.
That brings me to my next point. Jordan Henderson said it best in an interview I read recently. To paraphrase the young Englishman, he simply reminded us that their focus has to be on the next opponent. You only control your own destiny if you win the games in front of you, and no game is more important than the next one. I’ll admit that I have been caught up in looking ahead at the calendar. From what I have read online, I’m not alone. Just this afternoon I was driving in my car listening to the Chel$ki match against PSG on the radio. I did the victorious fist pump when I heard the announcer call out Demba Ba’s goal to put the Blues through to the Champions League semis. The obvious implication is that now Chel$ki must face a difficult two-legged tie in the semis against one of the best European clubs (assuming Bayern Munich take care of United tomorrow afternoon, of course – I’d never call Manchester United a top European club this season). That will take place on the Tuesday/Wednesday before and after Chel$ki come to Anfield. Many people have been tweeting about how good this will be for Liverpool, that it helps this team of destiny towards the title. I won’t deny that this is a result that could help us out, but it won’t matter if we don’t take care of business against City on Sunday. I also read another story about how Everton fans are worried that their home match against Manchester City on the penultimate weekend could help their cross-town rivals win the title. Some of them went as far to say that they’d rather sacrifice a spot in the Champions League if it meant giving Liverpool title #19. Don’t listen to that garbage. It won’t matter if we drop points at Norwich City or to Chel$ki, or God forbid if we lose to City on Sunday. Worry about the next fixture on the schedule. That’s all we can do. You’ve heard us say it before. Five Cup finals to go. Just win the next one.
So now Manchester City comes to the fortress of Anfield on Sunday looking to get all three points. Remember, they also control their own destiny as we do. A draw for City would still be enough for them to win the league as long as they didn’t drop any points later in the season. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they have quality all over the pitch, as well as on the bench. They’ve got players that won’t even make the trip that would help any team in the relegation battle. Liverpool is somewhat limited in their options compared to City. I’ve watched both teams play numerous times this season. On terms of talent alone, it looks like Liverpool may be slightly inferior. But they aren’t playing this game on paper. Nor are they playing it at the Etihad or a neutral site. This game is at Anfield, and we all know that makes a huge difference. The supporters believe. The players believe. And that can be a dangerous thing for anyone coming to Merseyside. One thing that I am starting to believe strongly is that Brendan Rodgers is a superior tactician than Manuel Pellegrini. You know that City will line up in their standard 4-3-3 formation. They’ve done it all year long, and despite all of the quality on his roster it doesn’t look like Pellegrini cares about who the opponents will put on the pitch. Rodgers, on the other hand, has done a fantastic job preparing the squad for each match. The players know their roles when the match starts. They know what needs to be done against each opponent they will likely see on the pitch. When things don’t seem to be clicking in the first half, like at Upton Park last weekend, Rodgers will make the necessary adjustments. He’s earned my confidence with some of his recent moves. His decisions have made a huge difference and kept this incredible streak alive. I haven’t seen that from Pellegrini, most notably in the Arsenal match a few weeks ago. I have no idea what Rodgers has in store for Sunday. But the good news is I’m sure that neither does Pellegrini. And the fact that he probably doesn’t care could just be the difference we need. Let’s hope so. All that Liverpool need to do now is just win the next one and make us dream. I can’t wait. Crap! I just noticed that it’s still only Tuesday. Up the Reds!!