Last season gave us very few results to really make us stand up and shout. An emphatic 6-0 win away to Newcastle was an impressive feat, and a couple of 5-0 wins at home to Swansea and Norwich gave us an idea of what we were capable of at our best. But our season was marred by disappointing results against the teams around us, and in that aspect the 3-2 home victory over Tottenham was as good as it got.
To achieve our goals this season, we knew that we would need to get better results against our rivals. Taking points off them whilst adding to our total, the metaphorical six pointers, could have been the difference between fourth and fifth, sixth or seventh.
Make no mistake; the early victory at home to Manchester United was a great win for us. Man U were a bit of an unknown quantity at the time, having had a poor pre-season and looking like they were suffering the effects of Ferguson leaving, yet then starting the season by thrashing Swansea and drawing with Chelsea. We played well in the 1-0 win, but we were perhaps more cautious than necessary and it could have been more.
The defeat away at Arsenal is one of only a handful of bad performances we’ve turned in all season, and we were deservedly punished. We simply came unstuck to a team who were top of the league and looking a class apart at the time.
The first of our big rival wins was the 5-0 away to Tottenham, and Andre Villas-Boas’ last game in charge at White Hart Lane. As impressive as the result was, the manager’s departure and talk of crisis at Tottenham overshadowed it, and we were just looked at as the lucky team that took advantage of a poor side on a bad run.
Then we came away from back to back trips to Manchester City and Chelsea with nothing to show, though we took a lot of credibility and two fantastic performances provided no reward as poor refereeing, individual errors, and bad luck cost us the points.
Combined with a 3-3 draw away to Everton, our big game record was improving but looking only marginally better than last season’s. The performances had been encouraging though, and with most of the teams still to come at Anfield, we had reason to be confident.
Since then, we’ve battered Everton, Arsenal and Man Utd in the reverse fixtures, and including the Spurs rout we’ve scored 17 goals in these vital matches and conceded just one; a penalty against Arsenal. There can be no claims of the score line not telling the full story either (unless you were to argue that we could have scored more), as we were the better side right throughout these games and executed our game plans perfectly.
Our counter-attacking style in these games may have raised some eyebrows among folk who were labelling us as a side obsessing over possession and trying to replicate Barcelona, but at no point were we out of control or using counter-attacks as a resort to relieve the pressure. Instead, we utilised it masterfully, almost daring the opposition to come forwards with the ball into certain areas, with absolute confidence that our tactical pressing and positioning would see the ball return to us, with our forwards now in even more space to exploit with their pace and movement. After the first goals, the opposition had no choice but to play right into our hands and attack frantically, whilst we continued to simply dispossess them and leave them chasing the shadows of our attackers.
To be talking about such huge wins over our rivals is one thing, but we haven’t let up on the smaller sides either. Very different performances and tactical set-ups have seen us hit three, four, or five goals past teams lower in the table, at home or away. Luis Suarez in particular thrived in tormenting them, and his flurry of goals could have been the catalyst that provided us with the confidence that we could do that to any side. With Man City and Chelsea still to come to Anfield, you’ve got to expect that they’re already dreading the worst.
This season may still hold some twists and turns, but no one can claim we haven’t been entertaining and to have so convincingly overcome so many teams in such diverse conditions has made us a team to be feared throughout the Premier League.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)