Liverpool are top of the league with six games to go. Whether you’d want to or not, it is now impossible to ignore the fact that we are definite title contenders, and swiftly becoming the favourites in many people’s eyes. There are still some big games to come, but more and more I seem to be hearing neutrals saying ‘I just have a feeling about Liverpool this year.’
In fact, it isn’t even limited to neutrals. Chelsea and Manchester City fans are realising that they are in serious danger of being pipped to the post by a team they never believed posed a serious threat, and Everton and Manchester United fans seem convinced that they are about to see their fierce rivals defy the odds to claim the league title.
Is it our relentless goal scoring, attractive football, and impeccable recent form that is generating this feeling? Or are people just backing the underdog? Certainly, there are still some people who are doubting our credentials, though the main uncertainty seems to be that we just don’t have the experience of our fellow title challengers.
While this is true, it was also the case for Man City in their successful 2011-12 campaign. And for much of that season, they had to deal with the whispers of it being their year, for a lot of the same reasons it is now being branded so with us; the results and style of play were impressive, but maybe more significantly it just felt like it was going to happen. It was around this time of the season where it looked like Man City had crumbled and their inexperience had gifted Man Utd the league. But they showed determination and spirit, despite having no know-how of the mentality required to go the distance, and their will to win pushed them through.
Will we suffer a stutter now that we seem to have people genuinely expecting us to win the league? Time will tell, but I don’t think so. For me there is still more pressure on Chelsea and Man City than on us. Even if we faltered and slipped to 3rd or 4th position come the end of the season, we’ll still have had a successful year.
Man City, however, have been tipped as favourites from the start, and to be fair they have looked the part so far. But as it becomes a genuine possibility that we could do to them as they did to their local rivals two years ago, they are having to deal with a very different sort of pressure. When they stole the league from Man Utd, they had been written off with six or seven games remaining, but bounced back from nowhere. Now, it is theirs to lose, and in that respect they too lack experience in how to handle that situation.
Chelsea have been chugging along nicely all season, and while they lack the regular thrashings that Man City and ourselves have been instilling in certain games, they usually find a way to grind out the results. Their loss to Crystal Palace at the weekend was a shock, but they have an experienced squad and manager, and you’d think that they’d be the least susceptible to any sort of collapse due to pressure, and it’s simply a question of whether they have the quality to keep up the pace.
But as Brendan Rodgers will tell you, we only ever focus on ourselves. If we were going to have any sort of major downfall due to the pressure of the title race, it would have become evident by now. The mentality within our squad at the moment is immaculate and you can see that we are simply enjoying our football. If other people want to talk and debate about us, then they are free to do so. But the pressure on us is simply the standard pressure that comes with being Liverpool, and nobody in the squad or staff is going to buckle under that pressure or they wouldn’t be here.
If we do suffer a couple of draws or defeats, no doubt everyone will be claiming we have bottled it and didn’t have the nerve to go the distance. Ignoring the fact that off-days earlier in the season, when there was minimal title talk, led to draws to Aston Villa and West Brom, and defeats to Hull and Southampton. These things happen.
We can’t be at 100% every single game. That’s nothing to do with quality, confidence, or mentality; it’s just the way things are. Six perfect games will see us crowned champions, but win, lose, or draw, we have done ourselves proud this season and we can play those games pressure-free, and let everyone else do the worrying.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)