When the calendar turns to April in less than 48 hours, Liverpool will be top of the Premier League. Thirty-two matches played, six left to go, and Liverpool are in control of their own destiny. They assured as much with a confident and controlled destruction of Tottenham Hotspur today at Anfield, scoring four goals and dominating the match from the first whistle to the last.
Liverpool 4: Kaboul (og) 2', Suarez 25', Coutinho 55', Henderson 75'
Brendan Rodgers finally moved away from the diamond he'd preferred in recent weeks, going back to the 4-3-3 with both Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling included and Joe Allen dropping to the bench. It was a move that made plenty of sense, especially once the Tottenham team sheet was released. Attack-oriented and set up to play a high line, Spurs would be ripe for the plucking on the counter, and as against Arsenal and Everton, Rodgers went with the personnel he felt could best exploit that.
And, as we've become accustomed to at Anfield, they did it early and often, forcing an own goal from Younes Kaboul in the second minute and taking turns pouring forward and recycling possession. The opener was the payoff from some patient buildup and a lovely cross-field ball by Coutinho, controlled by Sterling before he played Glen Johnson in past Christian Eriksen. Johnson's low cross was backheeled in by Kaboul, and the wall of noise that had ushered the match in doubled in size.
Spurs tested from the periphery but never got a foothold, and it was all about Liverpool. Strong in defense when needed, unpredictable and dangerous in attack. Suarez took advantage of another error in the Tottenham defense for Liverpool's second, this time running onto a catastrophic Michael Dawson backpass and hitting a perfectly-placed shot past Hugo Lloris at the far post.
Liverpool's lone nervy moment at the back came shortly after the Suarez goal, with a late sliding tackle from Martin Skrtel needed to keep out an Eriksen shot. It would be their last real chance until the dying moments, when a deflected Eriksen effort forced Simon Mignolet into a terrific save. In between it was unmistakably, undeniably Liverpool's for the taking.
Hugo Lloris was the only thing keeping this one close, denying another Suarez goal just before the break and keeping out Daniel Sturridge's audacious backheel early in the second half. Spurs had started with more energy after the break, pressing higher and more aggressively, but they were undone for good on 55 minutes when Coutinho's low drive beat Lloris at full stretch. Jon Flanagan's work to create--I said, JON FLANAGAN'S WORK TO CREATE--was breataking; the young fullback turned past Aaron Lennon and carried the ball forward before sliding Coutinho into space, and the Brazilian finally hit the target from distance to put Liverpool 3-0 up and in the clear.
A Jordan Henderson free-kick polished off the win with a quarter of an hour to go, and the final minutes played out to song and celebration. Three points, and top of the league.
I always type "words" as placeholders when I'm formatting these posts just so there's something there, but something about today makes me feel like I could have just left it as-is in the space for reactions. There really aren't many words I can find to describe what it's like watching this team at the minute. At every time of asking, questions are answered.
Today it was the pressure of potentially going top, of responding to late nerves against Sunderland midweek, of facing an opposition that could cause some problems, of playing their third match in eight days. And today they made good on their manager's words that they would remain calm, focusing only on the task at hand, and in doing so made a mockery of those suggesting that the pressure might tell. Spurs were abject, sure, but Liverpool were simply irresistible.
Raheem Sterling led the way with an astounding performance, operating from both wide positions, through the middle, up front, tracking back, whatever. Man of the match on a day when there were plenty of other contenders. Included in that discussion are all four across the back, Philippe Coutinho, and Luis Suarez, with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson not too far behind. It was a terrific team performance with very few areas of weakness to be noted, and one that fully deserved the plaudits that have and will continue to come.
Six matches left, and the title is there to be won. Where doubt and anxiety once reigned, now there is hope and belief. One week until the visit to Upton Park, which will surely be another difficult test. But now there can be confidence in the midst of frazzled nerves, fostered by a new-found resiliency that's replaced the fragile mentality that took hold over the course of the last four seasons.
Liverpool now believe, and why shouldn't they?