I didn’t know whether to title this post ‘Dreaming’ or ‘Believing’. As things stand, ahead of Liverpool FC’s absolutely huge showdown with Manchester City at Anfield this Sunday, I think the former is the most suitable description for how I feel about our title chances and that’s no problem at all. I’ll be sat in a Liverpool pub this Sunday, glued to the action on the big screen, with my head full of hopes and dreams.
I’d love to believe the Mighty Reds are going to romp on to claim their first top flight championship victory in 24 years, and I suspect should we take all three points this weekend I will start genuinely believing, but just dreaming of us lifting our first Barclay’s Premier League title is quite something. And I’m not kidding, I’ve fallen asleep on occasions this last week imagining captain fantastic Stevie G lifting that trophy in May, of the epic scenes of celebration in the city as the trophy is paraded before an adoring fanbase and of my own emotional response to the final whistle of the game that seals title victory. Sobriety in the days, nay weeks, that followed could not be guaranteed.
In 1990, when the likes of John Barnes and Ian Rush fired us to our eighteenth and last First Division title, I was seven-years-old, a full two years before my first footballing memories, which curiously are of watching the Euro ’92 final when Denmark upset the odds to defeat Germany in Gothenburg.
The 1994/95 season was my first of obsessively following the Reds. This is my twentieth season supporting the greatest team of my mum’s home city and in that time it’s no boast to say I’ve watched on as various incumbents of the liver bird shirt have won every single competition in which they have competed in, bar the Club World Cup and the Premier League.
We’ve come close before to ending the title drought. In 2008/09 we were tremendous with Gerrard at his most rampaging, playing off the once brilliant Fernando Torres; the energetic Javier Mascherano doggedly breaking up the opponents’ play, and the imperious Xabi Alonso spraying the ball around with effortless calm and precision. That was some Liverpool side, the best I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing and while it was a season in which we found another gear under the masterful guidance of Rafa Benitez, it was a season when we were always playing catch up to Manchester United and, albeit briefly when we destroyed those lot 4-1 at Old Trafford, it always felt that we were likely to just fall short.
This year, under Brendan Rodgers, in only his second season at the helm, it feels different. We have momentum as the league leaders with nine wins on the bounce. There is cohesion among our XI that I’ve never seen before. To a man, the players seem to anticipate intuitively where their teammates are on the pitch. They press the opponents when they have the ball as one and they attack in great numbers and with electric pace. Has there ever been a Liverpool side so bursting with pace and trickery? I can’t recall a greater attacking quartet in the last twenty years than Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.
For long periods under Benitez, we played with great intensity and it was a joy to watch. That’s the hallmark of a great Liverpool side to me. But where we were intense as a counter attacking side under Rafa, we are a different proposition yet with similar qualities under Rodgers. We press hard but express our own game, attacking is the remit, even when we’re a couple of goals up and it’s refreshing to finally hear neutrals who’ve derided the Reds for years as boring, tell me how Liverpool are an entertaining team to watch.
The squad has great youth and I don’t mean rough diamonds, but quality young players who are already full internationals or are otherwise knocking on the door. Sterling is only 19 and has 72 appearances and nine goals to his name. Jon Flanagan is 21, has 36 appearances and one goal (among this season’s highlights for me, his emphatic finish during the 5-0 hammering of Tottenham at White Hart Lane in December). Coutinho turns 22 in June.
Perhaps not ‘youth’, but definitely still young players with plenty of potential for improvement are Henderson, who’s 23, and Joe Allen, Mamadou Sakho and Sturridge, all just 24. Combine them with the experience of Suarez, Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, all top players familiar with the pressure that comes with playing on the grandest stages, then the chemistry of this Liverpool squad looks fantastic. With a few reinforcements to improve upon our second tier players next season – the likes of Aly Cissokho, Victor Moses and Iago Aspas – and I would expect a decent run in the Champions League, participation in which now looks assured and has, incredibly, been sidelined as we dream of what the next five games of this unbelievable season could yet, and just might, deliver.
I’m not counting my chickens. Fourteen wins on the bounce, a feat which looks likely to have to be achieved to immortalise this squad of players, in the history books, is a huge ask and has only been achieved once by an English side in the last 99 years – by Arsenal in 2002 (and that spread over the end of the 2001/02 season and the start of 2002/03).
What is for certain is that this season has already surpassed expectations, with a finish in top four the aspirational target before a ball was kicked last August, but it would be unreal for the dream to come true for two reasons – for Steven Gerrard to complete his trophy haul whitewash and, of course, in this, the 25th anniversary year of Hillsborough, for the 96. There would be no better tribute. YNWA.