Liverpool: Now We're Only Eleven Cup Finals From Glory
The concept was relatively simple; no European competition, no cup games, twelve games remaining in the season. Twelve games, as Gerard Houllier may have had it, from greatness.
Twelve cup finals then. Win them all and we're 'in the conversation' at the end of the season. A 4-3 win over a Swansea side that displayed 'real moments of quality' (thanks for that one Brendan) mean what we remain in the same position. In a weekend where all our title rivals (love that phrase so much) won, it was vital that we lost no ground. Equally vital was that we maintained our advantage over Spurs, an advantage that was effectively doubled with Norwich's late afternoon victory.
We now sit - still in fourth - four points from the top, three from second, six above fifth, eleven points above Everton (which is always nice, even if they do have a game in hand).....there's something I'm forgetting isn't there? Oh yes, we're the league's top scorers. That City side everybody was purring about? Scored more than them (yes, I know, they also have a game in hand, let me gloat while I can) and in eight of the last ten seasons the leading goal scorers have won the league.
None of which gives any idea of exactly how thoroughly mental a game this was.
When you're one nil up after three minutes (yet another sublime Sturridge finish from a glorious Sterling pass) you have every right to expect goals. When you are two up within twenty (Sturridge provider for Jordan Henderson to curl an impeccable shot into the top corner) you're generally entitled to look forward to an avalanche.
What you don't expect is your opponents to force their way back to level terms. Jonjo Shelvey's excellent finish from distance was no more than he and Swansea deserved; in truth they had been the better team since our first goal and most of their play had come through the acres of space that we had ceded to Shelvey in the centre of the park. His lack of celebration showed great dignity and was rewarded with acclaim from all sides of the ground.
The other self inflicted issue was our inability to deal with the impressive Wilfried Bony. Obviously it was his header, deflected off Skrtel after the defender had given away a needless free kick, that restored parity. The same combination would come together to allow Swansea a third from a penalty early in the second half. Skrtel finally being punished for the wrestling tendencies that he has displayed in our own box throughout the season. His incredulity at the penalty award was something to behold. It would appear that nobody has taken him to nod side at any point and discussed the rules of the game. His grappling has been a accident in waiting all season, here it served to wipe out the lead that we had taken before the break. Three all. Forty six minutes played. This is what we do now.
What we also do is this; we keep going. And going. And going. We currently have no understanding of the concept of not being able to score another. This other came on seventy five minutes via Henderson's awareness and willingness to fools up first Suarez' and then his own blocked shots. Cue delirium, relief and the absolute knowledge that we were more than capable of conceding again. 4-3, bets were being taken on it ending 7-6, we are living in bizarre times.
We have issues. We can't defend. It doesn't matter who we have in defence, it doesn't matter how they combine, we can not defend. We leave gaps in midfield. Huge, inviting gaps that the likes of Swansea are more than happy to exploit gaps than City, Chelsea and United are casting longing glances at as we speak. But. But. But those gaps disappear when we play a City or Chelsea or United, those days when we hunt and harry and press and allow our opponents no space at all.
We are, brilliantly, gloriously, schizophrenic. We are inviting trouble at the back and trusting that our forwards will simply outshoot the opposition. And they are doing it. Every. Single. Week. Even with Luis Suarez in an uncharacteristic lull - he's not scored for, what, five games? I'm calling that a drought by Luis' terms but a drought wherein he could have scored the goal of the season against Arsenal and came close today to lobbing Vorm from the halfway line. That kind of drought, the kind if drought that only applies to genius.
It is, in short, the single maddest season that Liverpool have ever had and we're loving every second even though it may kill us. Surely the final eleven games, these final eleven cup finals, can't all be like this.