And Then There Were Nine Cup Finals

Clive Mason

Having passed their two toughest road tests as the season begins to wind down, Brendan Rodgers is keeping his focus squarely on the next game as Liverpool's unlikely title challenge gathers pace.

Following Sunday's convincing victory over Manchester United, it can now be said that with less than ten games to go, Liverpool are title contenders. For first time in five years and the only times since 2002 and 2009, Liverpool are title contenders in the Premier League era. Even better, the match that has confirmed it came against Manchester United. It came at Old Trafford. And it came in pleasingly comprehensive fashion.

"I thought we were outstanding today," began a rather chuffed Brendan Rodgers following the match. "We had real dominance in the game. From the first whistle, our intent to attack, to press, and to work as a team was outstanding. I thought we could have had more goals. We were really aggressive in our game going forward, just that final pass or final touch might have been a bit better to finish them off even more.

"The aggression in our game was there to see. We attacked with great intent. It was a very good attacking performance. We continue to play well and work well. It's obviously a big win against a huge rival; two of the biggest British clubs and renowned worldwide. To dominate the game like that was very pleasing."

Having passed their two toughest road tests in this final stretch of games—at Southampton and Manchester United—was certainly pleasing for the fans. To walk into a stadium that has often proved difficult for Liverpool and defeat a rival by three goals to nil, solidifying the club's unlikely title challenging credentials while elsewhere a rival to the Premier League trophy was dropping points, was certainly pleasing.

It does, however, heap more pressure on this Liverpool side when it comes to ending their title drought and winning it for the first time in the Premier League era. They still may be the outsiders of the race, but with Chelsea dropping points, Liverpool are now in a position where they control their own destiny when it comes to beating the Blues in the final table—as long as they can beat them in the league on April 27th.

Manchester City, with two games in hand on Liverpool and three on Chelsea, also need to drop points. And Liverpool also need to beat Manchester City. Yet Liverpool are certainly now outside title contenders where before they were something rather outside of outside when it came to it. That's a situation that will only grow the pressure, but Rodgers insists they will still only be worrying about the next match.

"I'm just focusing on our own team," said the manager. "We've got nine games left—we might win all nine and still lose it. We will just focus on our next game, that's Cardiff. I'm only focusing on our next game and looking to get three points. All the teams will drop points—we may well drop points, we may not. I can only look at our next game. I've done that since I've walked in the door and I'm not going to change now."

Now, as Steven Gerrard has said, Liverpool will have to prove they can walk the walk and do just that. They will have to prove that they can treat Cardiff like they're Manchester United, and then treat Sunderland like they're Manchester United. In the past, that's something this club has often struggled with far too often. As recently as against Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion it's something they've struggled with.

Now, with the title on the line and nine games to go and one of the two sides Liverpool needed to see drop points having dropped those points, the players will certainly have the motivation not to take it easy against the rest of the schedule—whether it's against sides fighting for the title or sides fighting to avoid relegation. The title is still a long shot, but it's impossible now not to believe that it is indeed a shot.

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