Pressure's Off, Title's On

Tuesday is taco day at Melwood. Hendo and Stevie LOVE tacos... - Mike Hewitt

After all the collective angst about goal difference and the grief about relinquishing control of their fate, the equation is now beautifully clear for Liverpool. Manchester City must lose and the Reds must win. The pressure is gone but the prize is not.

Fate, dear readers, is a contentious concept. For some, buoyed by their own self-possession or embittered by jaundiced cynicism, there is no such thing -- we merely reap what we sow. For others there is a belief that a grand plan has been laid out and we simply play the roles the universe has assigned. A maddening amalgam of wary caution and hopeless Romanticism, this scribbler is simply confused -- baffled by the signs that have seemed to be there and discomfited by the apparent cruelty that has been on display of late, as those signs have become faded and indistinct.

For fans of a club with a less glorious past, fatalism and nervous dubiety would have held sway until the victory was mathematically secure. Liverpool fans, however, are a different breed. We have tasted the splendid sweetness of unexpected victory. The easy movements of celebration are embedded in our collective muscle memory. We know what it is to win. For that reason, many had started to believe a media driven narrative that the title was fated to be Liverpool's. The shock of the two most recent results has hit these people like a haymaker to the solar plexus. And yet, the Anfield men are top of the table and will go into the last game of the season with a chance of winning the Premier League. Let that one settle on you -- the beauty of that, the quiet satisfaction of it.

There has been an endless amount of speculation as to whether or not Liverpool will have what it takes to edge over the finishing line in first place. Some of the discussion has been informed and insightful, some has been an exercise in tedious vacuity. As is the way of the club's remarkably disparate fan base, opinion and sentiment has been savagely split in the wake of defeat to Chelsea and the surrendering of a further two points to Crystal Palace. To be part of the fevered debate on social media, it seemed that one had to be inclined towards an evangelical inclination to believe or a sepulchral certitude that it's all over. Shades of grey were not entertained in the world of jerky knees and fomentation.

The truth is that many eschewed the making of vatic utterances about impending glory. This circumspection was not born out of some aloof reluctance to join in the fun but rather out of watchfulness or plain superstition. Following the recent disappointments on the pitch, those same folk were equally reluctant to join in the misery spiral, preferring not to be consumed by the modern passion for apportioning blame and criticising with savagery. These players, after all, were the same ones that had hauled Liverpool from seventh to the pinnacle of the top flight in one season and yet the bile spewed in their direction by some keyboard warriors has been disgusting and utterly disproportionate.

As the season reaches its climax, the mathematics are delightfully simple and the burden of controlling their own fate has been removed from Brendan Rodgers' title chasing novices. If Manchester City lose to Aston Villa or West Ham and Liverpool win their last Anfield clash of the campaign against Newcastle, the title will return to Merseyside. The comparative likelihood of that is irrelevant now. The chance is there, on the last day, to be champions. It's a pulchritudinous vista to behold and it has been made a reality by a young dynamic coach and a thin squad of motivated and talented footballers. As the curtain is about to fall, Rodgers has been reflecting on the campaign and his words betray his pride in the work done to date. It is a pride that is eminently justifiable.

"I am very fortunate to work with an incredible bunch of players," averred the manager. "I found when I first came in they wanted to learn and wanted to be better. Waking up every morning of my life I really look forward to working with them. They give everything. This season they have allowed the supporters to dream and for a club of this size and this magnitude - to be a point ahead at the top of the table with a week to go – and you never know what can happen - it has been magnificent. Liverpool have shown their power this season and that is because of the fans. The supporters have shown this season why Liverpool is the club it is, one of the most iconic in the world."

Rodgers is sensibly inclined to play down any remaining chances of dramatic last-minute success knowing that such an outcome is not solely reliant on the efforts of his charges, but he has backed his players all season and their own self-belief was never more evident than upon the scoring of the third goal on Monday night, when we saw muted celebrations overpowered by an urgency to go on and score a few more -- the belief of that, the delightful arrogance of it is something this observer would never swap. Rodgers is phlegmatic ahead of the final match of the campaign, not surrendering hope but acknowledging the reality of the situation, thereby removing all pressure from his players. Their part in the last day drama is simple -- simply win and hope.

"To be successful you have to be able to lose," insists the Antrim man. "If you look over the years, the great winners have been teams and individuals who have lost and gone on to become champions again. For us, we have made great strides this season and there is still another game to go. If anyone had told us in August we would be top going into the last week of the season we would've taken it. We've qualified for the Champions League but there is an awful lot more we want to achieve. I promise for the time I am here we will fight for our lives and this season won't finish until after the Newcastle game."

It's endearing, isn't it? Even when he's playing down his team's chances, Rodgers cannot quell his love of a dramatic turn of phrase. We fans will hope for drama on Sunday, as that will mean our team are still in the mix. Irrespective of the various permutations we will watch happily as Liverpool's exceptional footballers fight for their metaphorical lives but now the shirt they wear will not be heavy. They have earned the right to wear it easily and with pride. They are a proper team who have performed in a way that echoes the greatest sides of the past and at times threatens to eclipse them. What a thought that is. These are great days to be a Red, days we have yearned for and days that should be savoured.

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