Even the most pessimistic are starting to consider it.
Liverpool could win the Premier League.
After a 24 year exile from the top of the English game, and many a false dawn along the way, there is a growing belief on Merseyside that Brendan Rodgers’ exuberant, enthusiastic and vibrant team might just pull off what would be the most unprecedented of successes.
While Rodgers has continued to strategically play down his unfavoured team’s chances, there is without doubt a degree of truth in the Irishman’s claims. It is completely unheard of for a team in Premier League history to go from 7th (with a 28 point deficit on the eventual champions) and win the title*.
*Although Manchester United are having a good go at repeating the trick in reverse.
With single-digit games to play in the current season, Liverpool have put themselves in with a genuine chance of upsetting Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal to lift the Premier League crown. A feat that would have seemed unthinkable last summer.
It is this improbability that would signal the most remarkable achievement in Premier League history. And here’s why.
1. The Suarez saga
Rewind just eight months ago and Liverpool were on the brink of losing their best player; their talisman and, according to many, their only hope of realistically challenging for a place in the coveted top four. Not only that, but The Reds would be forced to begin the season without their 23-goal superstar following the Uruguayan’s well documented indiscretion against Chelsea at the end of the previous campaign.
Suarez was subsequently unavailable for Liverpool’s first six domestic fixtures. Though that seemed to have little affect on the team as Daniel Sturridge came to the forefront and netted winners in opening fixtures against Stoke, Aston Villa and Manchester United to give Liverpool an unexpected place at the top of the standings.
2. The squad’s obvious lack of depth
A glance at Liverpool’s substitutes bench this season would probably give you a good idea into the limited resources that manager Rodgers has had to work with. Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, Martin Kelly, Aly Cissokho, Victor Moses and Joao Teixeira are just some of the names that have filled the bottom of the Liverpool team sheet in recent weeks. That’s not to say that some of them may not turn into good players – merely that they have had little to no part to play in the club’s transformation in fortunes.
Instead, Rodgers has relied almost religiously on a select group of players. In an age when the importance of squad depth has become ever more prevalent, Liverpool have found themselves in a prominent position in the table without the luxury of multi-million pound assets in reserve.
3. The defence (and the catalogue of errors to boot)
It is a testament to Liverpool’s attacking prowess that it has done much to paper over the cracks of a leaky and, at times, comically mistake-laden backline. Who can forget Kolo Toure’s assist for Victor Anichebe – or how about his sliced own goal against Fulham? Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and Aly Cissokho have also intermittently added to a haphazard defence that has shipped more goals than any title rival (even Arsenal).
4. The Steven Gerrard conundrum
Writing about the misfortunes of Steven Gerrard was the best thing I ever did on this blog.
Because ever since he’s been a revelation.
There was never any doubting Gerrard’s quality but his role within the team was becoming a serious point of concern.
However, since an ill-fated performance against Aston Villa where Gerrard looked overawed and exposed playing as a single pivot, the England captain has thrived in the newly-appointed position provided to him by Rodgers. Meanwhile, the youthful legs of Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Philippe Coutinho have offered a perfect foil for Gerrard’s new lease of life.
4. The challengers
It’s only when you account for the status of Liverpool’s title rivals that you really appreciate how much they’re punching above their weight.
The club has failed to stage any form of title challenge since losing out to Manchester United in 2009 during Rafa Benitez’s penultimate season in charge. There has been small recent successes in cup competitions (reaching the finals of the two domestic competitions in 2012; winning one) yet no real sustained impression at the top of the English hierarchy since the much publicised glory days of the 70s and 80s.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are all clubs, however, in much better positions to challenge for the league title. Even Arsenal, for all their trophy-barren years, have qualified for the Champions League for 16 consecutive seasons – providing them with both the capital and platform to attract the game’s top talent.
And well, Chelsea and City are clubs with a rich vein of contemporary successes backed by considerable windfalls.
5. The failures in the transfer market
Despite Liverpool’s success on the pitch, there has been plenty of frustration off it.The list of missed targets seems to grow endlessly window-by-window and it is indicative of Rodgers’ reign that the manager has failed to land a number of his key targets. Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson were two players that Liverpool were unable to tie-up in Rodgers’ first season while the names of Mkhitaryan, Willian, Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka are more recent disappointments.
6. The inexperience
If there’s one thing that Brendan Rodgers can’t be accused of it’s lacking faith in young players. Throughout his reign he has continued to show faith in raw but potentially exciting talent (although that could be a direct consequence of the previous point).
Moreover, Rodgers has clearly progressed and developed the careers of several – even when it had seemed that they may not necessarily succeed (certainly in the cases of Henderson and Jon Flanagan – and to an extent, Raheem Sterling). It is sign of Liverpool’s inexperience that Rodgers has fielded a team with an average age of just 24 in the Premier League this season – the third youngest behind Spurs and Southampton.
“You’ll never win anything with kids” Alan Hansen once infamously pronounced.
If Rodgers and Liverpool get their way then he might just be proved wrong again.