Sunday’s clash at Anfield between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur is as good a chance as we’ll get to measure the progress made by both teams this season, and there are certainly parallels that can be drawn between the two clubs: both went head-to-head for several of their summer signings; both now appear to be hitting their best form of the campaign after underwhelming starts to the season under new managers; and both have been led on the pitch by the scintillating form of their star players, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale, who appear to be going head-to-head for this year’s PFA award.
With ten games left to play in the Premier League, The Reds’ chances of snatching a top four place are all but over, even if they were to win all ten games; they have a ten point gap to make up on Chelsea, even though Rafa Benitez’s side still have to come to Anfield. That said, this is arguably a much bigger game for Liverpool than it is for Spurs, who are in pole position to finish third and can easily afford to lose and still secure Champions League football next season. That may seem like a bizarre statement to make given that Brendan Rodgers’ side have little left to play for this season, but let me explain.
Rodgers has still yet to win over a significant portion of Liverpool’s fanbase who are still not sold by his methods or style of play - and they frequently point to the fact that our only win over a side above us in the table came a few weeks ago when we beat a weakened Swansea team 5-0 when they had one eye on the League Cup final. It is a perfectly valid argument, to be fair. For all the good football we’ve played, for the fact that we outplayed the current league champions home and away, as well as doing the same to their city neighbours at Anfield, and were denied a clear last-minute winner in the Merseyside derby, we have failed to see these games out secure the victory. For all the talent in the side, we’ve lacked the mental toughness to convert our dominance in to wins, and that has been our problem all season.
But there is a caveat to all of that, of course: Luis Suarez was a one-man army in attack until the cavalry arrived in January in the form of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. The impact of the duo - who are both in the infancy of their Liverpool careers - cannot be overstated; they have settled in straight away and helped transform our attacking play and we finally have more than one attacking threat to count on for goals. It’s pointless looking at things theoretically, but given the form Sturridge has shown since his arrival, and the understanding he has formed with Suarez, it’s hard not to wonder what if we had managed to sign him on deadline day of the summer transfer window instead of Rodgers having to wait until January.
A lot of the criticism aimed at Rodgers seems to be something along the lines of “we sacked Kenny for a man who’s never won a cup?” It’s fair enough, really, the obvious emotional attachment to Kenny aside, he won a cup and got us to the final of another, but following his dismissal, we were then told by Ian Ayre, the same Ian Ayre who told us that winning trophies are our raison d’etre, that “trophies aren’t important” and it was all about building for the long-term. So with us being knocked out of all three cup competitions fairly early - and in two cases embarrassingly - fans are right to expect us to be in a better position in the league. But to criticise Rodgers for not being Dalglish is harsh; he was offered his job and he took it. Fans instead should turn their anger to the absent owners who are making footballing decisions with admittedly little knowledge of the game.
So, then, with the much needed reinforcements finally here and looking impressive, now seems a fairer time to judge Rodgers, given that he finally has the tools needed to do his job. Should we ignore what happened over the first half of the season? No, not at all. But given that he clearly was not in charge of decisions over transfers and was badly let down by the owners in the summer, and only now has he had more than one senior striker fit and available for selection, it’s only fair that we look at the big picture and admit that he was hamstrung to a certain degree over the first half of the season, so with the squad pretty much at full strength, the final few months of the season will tell us a lot about how good we really are.
Liverpool’s remaining league games (not in order) see them host Tottenham, Chelsea, Everton, West Ham and QPR, and travel to Southampton, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Reading and Fulham. Given the form of the aforementioned teams, Spurs represent the toughest test between now and the end of the season, so a win for Liverpool - which would make it four wins on the trot - would not only well and truly get the ‘not beat a team above them’ monkey off their back - no reference to Gareth Bale there, honestly! - but with a relatively kind run in, gives them the chance to go on a winning run and lay down a marker for next season, as well as hopefully convince Luis Suarez to give them another year.