by Kieran Davies
‘There’s only one team in Europe playing better than us and that’s Liverpool FC. You can’t describe them!’ These were the wise words of Pep Guardiola this week who has been waxing lyrical about the Anfield outfit and who can blame him. Brendan Rodgers’ team are blitzing record after record and are now in the driving seat to make Steven Gerrard’s boyhood dream come true and the football purists want to see it happen. The reason for this is that Liverpool and their owners have done things the right way without buying trophies like their competitors Chelsea and Manchester City. Financial fair play in Manchester (the blue side) seems to involve getting your brother in law to sponsor your ground to the tune of £400m where as Roman’s rubles are haemorrhaging at such a rate if Chelsea were a horse he’d have put them down by now. FSG have taken the approach of running a football club like a true business really concerning themselves with profit and loss figures and ensuring the long term future of the club, quite refreshing really considering the ethos of the previous cowboys I mean owners. They were of the breed of paper millionaires who never spend any money and use the club to pile debt upon. Thankfully those days are long gone as John Henry swooped in like his compatriot from the Daily Planet to all reds fans.
In a three horse race, Liverpool have gone from a shock contender pushing the leading pack to now being in pole position. The plan is a simple one now, win your last six games and you’re Premier League champions, no manager in the world wouldn’t take this at the start of the season. Add to that they are a team in unbelievable form having won their last eight games on the bounce. Three times this season their opponents have scored three goals against them and still ended up being on the losing side. There’s a real grit about the team and away from home in particular they’ve won games they never would have done in the past. Gone are the days where opposing fans would lament the fact that they are a ‘one man team’ and that without Gerrard they are nothing. Well take Stevie out of the team now and you still have Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez to concern yourselves with. The fact of the matter is this Liverpool team has more attacking threats than Kim Jong Un has made since he has been in power.
So what is behind Liverpool’s unexpected rise to the summit of the table? The haters will put it all down to a lack of European football and don’t get me wrong the lack of games does help because the squad doesn’t have the depth it will need next season but the first XI could beat anyone in Europe on their day. In response to that thought also I would argue that having European football also gives you the financials and the pulling power to have a squad with depth of quality required to chase trophies on many fronts. But then there are also extremes to this, take Chelsea for example who currently have 27 players out on loan or Man City a place renowned for players falling out of favour and then being left to rot in the reserves or in some cases forced to train with the youth teams both surely unsustainable business models.
The reality is Liverpool’s return to Champions League qualification is down to many factors but one of the most important is the manager. It is his vision married with the owners that are working towards getting the club back to where they belong. As Pep Guardiola said ‘They deserve to be there and it’s good for the Champions League that next season Liverpool will be there.’ For me though the majority of the credit has to be directed towards Brendan Rodgers. The way he has managed Suarez through good times and bad has resulted in the player committing himself to the club and boy are they reaping the rewards 29 goals and counting having missed the first 5 games due to suspension. But it is not just Suarez he has done this with look at the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and John Flanagan who are all prospering under the Irishman’s tutorage. What’s more is that the current Liverpool starting XI consists of six English players, now show me another team in the upper echelons of the Premier League table who can boast that. If Brendan adds to this in the summer as is being suggested Roy Hodgson may get to spend more time at Anfield than he did as the manager.
It would be a true testament to loyalty, something severely lacking in the English game, if Steven Gerrard was to be holding the Premier League trophy aloft at the end of the season. Something which could maybe inspire future generations to do the same and not to follow the money on offer. Don’t get me wrong Steven earns a pretty penny at Anfield but many have tried to turn his head, one almost did, but all the fans care about is seeing him lead that team out. If Liverpool do seize this chance to win their first Premier League title it is a testament to the fans also. Over the last decade they have seen their favourite players move on (Alonso, Torres etc), fallen out of the Champions League (a tournament heavily ingrained into the clubs history), been tormented and ridiculed by opposing fans, but they have stayed loyal and this would be their reward.
The beauty of this title race for Liverpool fans is that the main goal for this season was to attain a top 4 spot and to get the club back into the greatest tournament in club football, the Champions League. So to be in a title race is only a bonus. The fact that there seems to have been a complete role reversal with their greatest rivals Manchester United, makes the accomplishment even sweeter. While United fans cling to the hope the a £200m splurge will undo this season and reinstall them back in the top 4 again, Liverpool fans know that is easier said than done. United have lost a great manager, Liverpool are still developing one but come May if Gerrard is lifting that trophy, Rodgers will have etched his name into Liverpool history and the fans hearts as well.