Liverpool's title chances: ‘Rodgers has me believing’
Fifty years ago Liverpool beat Tottenham to go top of the league, going onto win the title, and on Sunday afternoon, Reds’ manager Brendan Rodgers showcased to the whole league and the rest watching, the vision of the team he had in mind when he first took over almost two years ago, looking and playing like champions and resembling a team that could challenge for the Premier League.
In a week for flying banners, Rodgers may not be ‘the Special One’ or ‘the Chosen One’ but ‘the Carefully Chosen One’ as showcased by Red fans who flew the banner in the 4-0 dismantlement of Tottenham.
I was sceptical at first when the former Chelsea youth team coach and Swansea manager was appointed manager in June 2012. Many had come with talk of returning the club to its past glories and been nowhere near challenging for the club's ‘bread and butter’, the elusive 19th title. At first glance, the Northern Irishman did not look like a man that had the credentials after only one successful season in the top flight with the Swans.
Restoring Past Glories
Bringing back the old ‘This is Anfield’ sign and the red goal nets were merely cosmetic changes made on the surface, some would say nostalgic, but they were made to make a point, for people to remember the club’s victorious past, however the real fundamental changes were bringing back standards that were so severely absent since Liverpool last won a league title in 1990.
On the day of his press conference unveiling at Anfield, he promised to dedicate his life ‘to fight’ for the club and defend their great principles on and off the field.
Rodgers also spoke of Liverpool as ‘one of the dynasties of the game’, with five European Cups and were on a par with European giants and that their status was up there with AC Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich."
He knew where the historic club stood and where it should be, among Europe’s elite.
The decline of the all-conquering football dynasty laid on by the legendary manager Bill Shankly, ‘the man who built not only a team but a club’, can be pinpointed to the car-crash transition from the management under Kenny Dalglish to Graeme Souness, with that subsequent change, a devastating chain of events occurred, the destruction of the famous Boot Room at Anfield, the loss of old club traditions, and wholesale sale of seasoned trophy winning players that knew ‘the Liverpool way’ and the high standards that were demanded at the club and its fans had been accustomed to. While Sir Alex Ferguson would love people to believe he ‘knocked Liverpool off its perch’, a bulk of the damage was done by a fellow Scot.
His Own Man
Rodgers, you may remember, turned down Fenway Sports Group’s initial offer after he believed that he was not their number one choice. He forced their hand even more when he only agreed to take the hot seat after the owners shelved plans for a sporting director, demanding full ‘control’ of the team.
He claimed what attracted him to the job was the ‘frustration’ of waiting 20 years for a league title, “But the process ends today” he uttered somewhat prophetically. “In that it’s a new cycle, and that’s something we’ll work towards in the years to come.”
At the Spurs game were two former legends looking on, club record goalscorer Ian Rush and one of Liverpool’s greatest players and managers ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish, and even they, who have seen and done it all in the game, must be considering that lifting the Premier League trophy is now a distinct possibility.
The chant of "We're gonna win the league" was ringing out around Anfield, after the 4-0 win over Spurs, had the loyal Red following once dreaming during the season, now believing that the Premier League is in their grasps.
And so they should be, the exciting Liverpool team have had a record breaking season, at present they have scored 88 goals in the league, and gathered a total of 71 points after 32 league games. Only in 1979 and 1988 did the club have more points at this stage of the season, and on both occasions won the league.
Luis Suarez's 29th league goal of the season against Tottenham also broke Kop hero Robbie Fowler's record (28 in 1995/96) as the Liverpool player with the most goals in a single Premier League season and is on course to be the Premier League record goalscorer in a single season.
His prolific SAS partnership with Daniel Sturridge has yielded 49 league goals so far this season, the same as Everton and Southampton and more than 13 teams in the Premier League.
And most importantly, Liverpool are the only team yet to lose a Premier League game in 2014, winning 11 and drawing twice, the kind of form that has helped them keep in touch at the top of the league.
When Rodgers was first appointed, he himself spoke of a realism that they were not ready for challenging for the Premier League, as the team finished seventh in his first season. It was not the first time, Reds fans have been disappointed.
There had been two decades of false dawns under the previous regimes of Evans, Houllier and Rafa Benítez, when at times they looked to challenge United at the summit, however those sides--despite possessing natural talent and the ability of the likes of McManaman, Fowler, Owen, Hyppia, Alonso, and Torres--never had the belief that Rodgers’ team has, nor the same consistency to win games week in and week out.
Anfield was once a fortress in the Seventies and Eighties and this season, despite a few hiccups along the way, Rodgers has restored some of that supremacy at home. There is still some way to go, but today no team in the country would want a trip to play Liverpool at home, that could not be said about the Reds under Souness or any of his heirs but for a brief period under Rafa Benitez.
Liverpool is still a work in progress, defeats to Southampton and Hull this season showcase that fact, but the way they’ve bounced back from those defeats and consistently won match after match, has shown that Rodgers is building his own dynasty and that the ‘cycle’ is not complete.
But I have to hand it to him, Rodgers has come to the club with a work-ethic, an attractive passing philosophy and the patience and conviction that he could restore the club to its past glories. The tide seems to be changing and this may not be the only season Liverpool are up challenging for the league.
There’s still a lot to play for, and City and Chelsea (even with José Mourinho’s horsey denial), who have been there and done it, maybe favourites in this race, but with this rampant and goal-hungry Liverpool side under a visionary manager, it has this Reds fan believing in a first league title in 24 years.