Monday, 31 March 2014

Can Liverpool Hold Their Nerve?

With the season coming into its final straight, the race for the Premier League title is excitingly poised. The top four are separated by six points, as Liverpool lead the way. For large parts of the campaign it had looked like Arsenal were going to end their run of nine years without a trophy, but now it is looking more and more likely that Liverpool could steal their first title since 1990.

It has been a campaign reminiscent of Newcastle's Keegan years, but Brendan Rodgers and co. will be hoping there are much less tears at the season's end. Eric Cantona's dagger blow finish at St James' Park was widely thought of as the moment that the Toon upstarts were put in their place by Manchester United. The blue half of Manchester may yet be the one's that slap Liverpool down this time around, as they travel to Anfield on April 13th.

Still, the attacking verve and style that Liverpool have played with this season has been a joy to behold at times. The partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has admittedly been the glue holding it all together, but we are talking about industrial strength glue here. An able supporting cast of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson ensures their place as an England-squad goldmine for Hodgson to pilfer from, alongside Southampton. Should Liverpool hold their nerve, it will only do those players good, and start to breed a winning mentality that has been sorely lacking in the England national team of late.

Even Brendan Rodgers has against the odds become one of the most likeable managers in the league. After Kenny Dalglish's gross mis-handling of the Luis Suarez racism affair, Liverpool needed a man of fortitude - one that would not make an already toxic situation worse. He got an early chance to prove that, with Suarez's biting incident giving him one of many headaches during a difficult first season. While he was staunch in his critcism of the length of Suarez's ban, he did not condone what the Uruguayan had done to get that ban. Suarez was left in doubt that he had let the club down, but when you have such a world-class talent in the side, you must build around him.

Last season, Liverpool were undoubtedly a one-man team. This time around, others have stepped up, proving that Suarez is not out of place, but merely the catalyst for the most surprising of title challenges. Rodgers has evolved tactically this season, proving that his teams do more than pass teams into tedious submission. He has utilised the explosive talents in his side perfectly, and played to their strengths, rather than relying on an often suspect backline. That opening half against Arsenal earlier this year will go down as one of the Premier League's greatest ever performances, as Anfield was thrilled by a pacy, hard-working and ruthless attacking display. If they repeat that level of performance against their other two title rivals, they will lift a well-deserved first Premier League title.

As Liverpool's 4-0 demolition of Tottenham proved, they are still very much in the zone, and as the stakes are raised higher and higher, Rodgers and his young side can end up alongside the likes of Keegan as Liverpool legends.

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