By Charles Morley
Mamadou Sakho claimed this week that Liverpool’s crunch encounter with Manchester City on Sunday could be the club’s biggest league game in 24 years and considering the young Frenchman only arrived at Anfield last summer no one would argue with his statement about Liverpool’s recent past. Everyone associated with Liverpool football club knows the importance of Sundays clash and after a whirlwind 18 months at Anfield it is easy to forget the progress that has been made in such a short space of time. Top 4 would have been a massive step for Brendan Rodger’s developing side this season and talk of a title challenge at the start of the season might not have been taken too seriously. That isn’t the case anymore however, now sitting top with five games left to play Liverpool have a serious chance of winning their first ever Premier League title, but how have they become title contenders this season?
Becoming a Bully
Every Liverpool fan would agree that the last 4 seasons have been tough going. Since finishing second in 2008/09 when Benitez’s side lost just two games all season and racked up an impressive 86 points (Only Manchester United in 2011/12 have finished runners up with more points in the modern Premier League era) Liverpool have failed to wrestle their way back into the Top 4. That was until this year and Rodgers now not only has a chance to lead his Liverpool team back into Europe but one step further and on to the title. One of the ways Brendan Rodgers has turned this Liverpool side into a winning machine once again is the improved performances against mid-table sides.
In the four seasons between the 2009/10 campaign and the 12/13 season Liverpool managed to take an average of just 29 points against teams that finished 6th to 15th in the table. Compare this return to this seasons 42 points that Liverpool have won against teams currently in mid-table at the moment and you can see why Liverpool have improved this year. Not only have Liverpool been more consistent against teams that could be expected to beat but they have bullied teams on many occasions, winning convincing away from home at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, St Marys and the Britannia Stadium. With games still remaining against Newcastle at home and Crystal Palace away, Liverpool can even add to this tally of points chalked up against mid-table sides and will be hoping to continue their dominance.
Firing on all Cylinders
Liverpool have been nothing short of sensational in front of goal this season, banging in 90 goals in 33 games and they still have a chance of breaking the Premier League goal scoring record. Only one team in Premier League history has netted more than 100 goals in a single season, Carlo Ancelotti’s title-winning Chelsea side of 2009/10 who finished with an impressive 103. That season Chelsea had four players reach double-figures in the Premier League but it was Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard that contributed the most with a combined total of 51 goals.
Suarez and Sturridge already have 49 goals together this season and one of the most pleasing aspects of Liverpool’s title challenge for fans is the way they have gone about their business this season, playing a brand of attacking football that has been a joy to watch and Liverpool have already scored more goals this season than 8 of the last 10 champions managed.
Making Anfield a Fortress Again
For four seasons between the start of the 2005/06 season until the end of the 08/09 campaign Liverpool lost a total of 3 games at Anfield. All three defeats came against eventual champions and was proof that Anfield was a feared place for opposition to come and play football. However in the same four year period between the start of the 2009/10 term and the end of last season Liverpool lost a combined 14 games at home. This has been another area Rodgers has improved and Liverpool have lost just the once, to Southampton at home this season and scored freely against nearly everyone else.
With huge games remaining at Anfield including the visit of Manchester City on Sunday and Mourinho’s Chelsea at the end of April, Liverpool will hope to keep up their impressive home form to continue their title charge.
Improvements to the First 11
To continue to improve and step up to the next level even the biggest clubs in Europe strength their playing squad and this is another area Rodgers has excelled in since arriving at Liverpool. Without going into the details of how every signing has performed it is easy to see the impact of several players that have arrived in the last 3 transfer windows. Daniel Sturridge has been a revelation up front, finally benefitting from an extended spell with a manager who believes in his ability. Philippe Coutinho is another player who arrived and made an immediate impact last season, contributing an impressive 7 assists in the second half of last season and another 6 again this term. Compare the current side with the team that lost 3-0 against West Brom in Rodgers first game in charge and you can see that although whole sale changes haven’t been made, weak areas have been strengthened. The line-up that day: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Kelly, Downing, Allen, Gerrard, Lucas (Joe Cole 2nd half substitute), Borini, Suarez. Credit must go to Rodgers for recognising where improvements should be made and performing so well this season with the same core that underperformed before his arrival.
Whatever happens in the remaining 5 games of this Premier League season Liverpool fans have a right to be confident for the future. The plan Rodgers has in place may be ahead of schedule but if his side can build on some of the trends outlined above while continuing to strengthen there is no reason Liverpool fans can’t get used to success again sooner rather than later.