At first it was easier to explain. No European football of any kind (and the fortune, in hindsight, of being knocked out of the League Cup early) owed to Liverpool’s good form at the start of the season. It was thought of as a false position they held near the top of the Premier League table, because thrown into a fixture list as congested as that of fellow title rivals, their true colours would show.
Liverpool have taken good steps to be where they are now, investing in youth, both in the form of their manager and their recruits via the market. With the fire power Brendan Rodgers has available to him in the form of Luis Suarez – a player trumpeted as the best in England – combined with smart tactics and a supporting cast of more than able attackers, it is about right where the club are now.
Instead of looking at it from a cynical point of view, we should strip away the topic of European football from the Liverpool-title challenge discussion and look at it for what it is: a team starting again, building from the bottom up and who will, when the time is right, play in the Champions League again. But first the ability to perform domestically.
Rodgers has been eager to keep his players grounded. He doesn’t need to look too far for support on that front. Steven Gerrard is one of the best captains to have in situations like this, when young players need a strong figure on the pitch and in the dressing room to help keep their heads clear. More than anyone at the club, Gerrard will be desperate to add the Premier League title to his trophy count, but it’s clear he’s not becoming distracted from the job at hand.
Around Christmas it was understandable for the Liverpool manager to want to distance his squad from talk of title challenges. It was sensible because even then, when they went into Christmas day as the league leaders, there were issues in the team that needed ironing out. Inconsistencies in the team’s results and general form, the matter that he had flagged up a squad that wasn’t strong enough and that could yet be reduced further by long-term injury. There’s also the psychological impact and distraction it has to talk up your own title credentials. Even Jose Mourinho, who is top with Chelsea, won’t admit to being in the race.
But that was three months ago. There’s only 10 games left and Liverpool are only held off the top spot by Chelsea while sitting above Arsenal and Manchester City (albeit who have two games in hand). The biggest name missing from that list will generate undoubted joy from the red half of Merseyside. Liverpool are so far ahead of Manchester United, and not just in terms of points, that it seems pointless to mention David Moyes’ side in the list of relevant sides who Liverpool are above.
Liverpool are currently the league’s most in-form side with the league’s most lethal strike partnership. Things likely could have been different, and Sergio Aguero’s injury troubles at Manchester City are as much a case of fortune as being given a clear run at the title through a lack of cup competition interventions.
Yet even with all that going for Rodgers and his side, it may be unwise to think too far ahead. What is important now is the game against Manchester United on March 16th. Taking away from Jose Mourinho’s reaction, there isn’t too much wrong with what Arsene Wenger said about fear of failure. No one really wants claim this season’s title as their own due to the unpredictability of the season so far.
And of course Liverpool have been here before, sitting in a strong position with just under two months left to play. They’ve also been burnt.
The temptation will be there, and for all we know, Rodgers is sitting quietly out of camera and ear-shot thinking of the 10-game stretch and what could be achieved in only his third season as a Premier League manager. But there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing. For now, and even with 10 games left, just carry on as normal.