Five points clear at the top of the table. Five points clear, with three games left to play. Maybe it’s Man City’s game in hand obscuring things slightly, but something about that statement just doesn’t seem right.
I can’t even put a number on the amount of times over the years I’ve gone off into a daydream about the day Liverpool will once again win the league. And every single time, I have imagined the last day of the season where we are massive underdogs, and only the unlikeliest of results across the fixtures would see us finish top. And as the 90th minute looms, our rivals concede a goal or two to give us some scrap of hope. Whispers spread over Anfield (I never even contemplated that our final game would be away) that we may be in with a shot after all, and after a frustrating game of few incidents, we enter stoppage time and one hero steps up with a goal out of nothing to crown us champions. Fowler, Owen, Gerrard, Torres, Suarez. Header, volley, 30 yard screamer, back post tap in. I’ve imagined them all and every time it has been brilliant.
Reality is painting quite a different picture though. Everyone now seems to think that it’s our title to lose, and that we have it in the bag. We may well go into the last game of the season as the ‘other’ team in my daydreams. The team who is leading the way whilst the trailing teams feel like they are fighting a losing battle. And only a shock defeat to Newcastle would allow Manchester City or Chelsea the chance to steal the title. Call it paranoia or pessimism, but I’m not going to lie, it scares me.
It’s like the old, and often quite ridiculous, saying that a 2-0 lead is a dangerous situation. Not quite as dangerous as a 2-0 deficit, but the logic is that it allows the complacency to creep in that a one goal lead wouldn’t, and it lacks the security of a three goal lead.
That’s how our title challenge feels at the moment. It’s hard to deny that we are in the driving seat, but it’s certainly far from over. And this is not an implication that our players will be susceptible to complacency. Rather, it’s like a team who haven’t won a game for 24 matches battling their way to a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes to go. On paper it looks like they’ve done it, but there’s always going to be some doubt over a team when they’ve gone so long without a win.
At the start of the season we weren’t even getting a mention when people debated who could finish on top this year. By Christmas, opinions were split as to whether or not we were genuine title contenders. In the past month or so, we’ve gone from being the outsiders in a three horse race, to undisputable favourites.
Having already guaranteed our qualification for next year’s Champions League, our main target for the season has been achieved. But with us sitting at the top of the tree with the finish line in sight, there’s no chance of us letting up.
Having eleven consecutive wins behind us, the prospect of needing seven more points from three games shouldn’t be too daunting. And even that is assuming that Chelsea or Man City don’t drop points elsewhere. If it were either of those two sides in our situation, people might be thinking the title race is as good as over.
But I, and all other Liverpool fans, know not to get too comfortable as we simply don’t do things the easy way. Our last three major trophies have all been won on penalties, twice in situations where we were the favourites from the start of the game. But in 2006 against West Ham, and 2012 against Cardiff, we actually found ourselves trailing for much of the game, and making a meal out of a match that neutrals thought should be ours for the taking.
So as this season comes to a close, I can’t deny my scepticism. At the moment things just seem a bit too straightforward, and my head is telling me that number 19 won’t come unless it’s in a situation where our hearts are firmly in our mouths. I have absolute confidence in this Liverpool team to go all the way, but I’m still expecting a couple of twists and turns yet. Just to keep us on our toes.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)