There's a nausea-inducing optimism around Liverpool this season, which only intensifies with each notch the club etches in the win column. It's a cautious optimism set against the context of finishing seventh last season and knowing there was tremendous work to be done to get back into Europe, but as the season winds down and places in the table begin to settle, fourth place no longer seems to be the ceiling for Liverpool's ambitions.
The top of the table is tight, this much is clear. Sitting first at Christmas came with temporary elation but no real reassurance, and Liverpool quickly fell back to fourth after back-to-back defeats at the hands of title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet Liverpool remain undefeated in the league since the loss at Stamford Bridge, and their run of title-winning form in 2014 has put them within reach of an actual title win.
It's a an unbelievable and exciting place to be, no doubt, but as Everything's The Worst proselytizers, we seem particularly adept at talking ourselves off that happiness ledge and reining in those feelings of "we're gonna win." Fourth this season will be an accomplishment, we tell ourselves; third place and direct access to the Champions League group stage will be a bonus. But the title? Let's not get too excited. There are still nine matches to go, after all.
"We'll enjoy tonight," Steven Gerrard said of the 3-0 win at Old Trafford, "but we need to move on very quickly because we know Cardiff is going to be very tough. I think we showed today that we are genuine contenders and we're going to fight till the end for this.
"I've said it many times - in football, the easiest thing is to talk the talk, but we've got to go and treat Cardiff like Manchester United now and then do the same at Sunderland after that. If we can do that, we'll win a lot of games between now and the end of the season. The rest of the people fighting with us have got to believe that we're going for it."
Captain Fantastic has declared Liverpool to be title contenders. It's that simple in his mind. There's no emotional bargaining, no accepting of a lesser table position as part of a multi-year build towards a tilt at the title. With the form Liverpool are in, the club are going for it, end of story. Beware, City and Chelsea, for Steven Gerrard has thrown down a gauntlet.
If anyone has reason to be cautious with his emotions on this subject, it's Gerrard. The captain has been waiting his entire career to win a Premier League title, and time is not on his side. As fans, we'll always have another season to look forward to if we fail to achieve that most coveted of targets, but the end of Gerrard's playing days are well within sight. Yet instead of trying to not get his hopes up, instead of hedging his bets and hoping for the best, instead of remaining coy on a title run, he's put it all out there.
If that doesn't give us permission — as fans, as people who always get another chance for a title — to openly share that dream with him, I'm not sure what will. Do it for Steven Gerrard, friends. Do it for your captain, your king.