Once upon a time, when the concept of ETW was foreign to the red half of Merseyside, focusing on reaching the business end of the season with trophies in sight was expected. Reaching the quarter-finals and semi-finals wasn't worth a second of jubilation as there was more important business to attend to. Being only four points off top spot with only ten games remaining would garner little pride in the dressing room for it was first or nothing else. That bygone epoch of glorious domination and incessant expectation has been replaced by incessant expectation. Combine this expectation with a sizeable addition of unyielding hope results in frequent self-immolation.
Liverpool's burning red heart would flicker brightly in Europe and domestic cups to soothe fierce burns and battered emotions. Some nights were legendary and the men in Red earned a place in Valhalla for arousing our spirits in such fashion. The transience of such highs was always affixed onto the backdrop of one permanent date: 28 April 1990. Liverpool clinched its 18th league title and for 24 long years, hardly challenged for a 19th. It has become Captain Ahab's whale or an albatross following our ship whenever we appear to steer close to such blessed shores. Herman Melville and Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew a thing or two about obsession and fortune.
Many Liverpool fans are overjoyed with another victory, which extends an impressive winning streak to four league games. The win streak is currently the best in the league after West Ham's defeat at local neighbours Everton courtesy of the returning Romelu Lukaku. Should we celebrate and enjoy the victory against Southampton? I think so and it's not a sign of Liverpool fans getting ahead of ourselves or ignoring the fact there are other challenges to come. We know there's an international break coming up where a player or two may come back injured but we also know our next game is on 16 March. There's plenty of time to for the playing staff and management to rest, make tactical preparations, train, remain focused, and pick up another victory.
Should we celebrate and enjoy the victory against Southampton? Of course. Any victory should be celebrated and this one in particular does not require the volume to be turned down. By the time Liverpool's game kicked off, the players knew exactly what winning a game would mean: second place. Arsenal had another of those unfortunate encounters away to Stoke and Chelsea emerged victorious against local rivals Fulham. The task was to remain within four points of Chelsea and overtake Arsenal. The problem lay in Mauricio Pochettino's 100% record against Brendan Rodgers and history of exploiting Liverpool's weakness against a high-tempo and swift pressing midfield unit.
Victory would not only be cathartic but significant. A clean sheet and three goals masked how close the game actually was but many of the best sides have navigated tricky trips to troubling teams. On Saturday, Liverpool could be genuinely counted as such. We're not just celebrating that we're now ahead of Arsenal having played the same number of games. We're not just celebrating that we're in second place. We're not just celebrating beating a side that has posed so many questions of the team and manager (they continued to do so yesterday). We're not just celebrating a possible confirmation that while we remain outsiders, we are legitimate title challengers. We're celebrating the fact that Liverpool are nine points ahead of Spurs, putting pressure on Tim Sherwood's side to win just to remain six points adrift of ourselves and Arsenal. We're celebrating returning to the top two having been top at various times this season.
We're celebrating all of that and more, knowing that trips to Old Trafford and Cardiff City Stadium must be fruitful to even continue to entertain ambitions that should still be whispered in dark and narrow corridors. Man City will most likely win the games in hand they have over Liverpool but there are no guarantees. This season remains unpredictable and it may be tedious to repeat such observations but each of the league's best sides possesses noted weaknesses. Points have to be earned because a sloppy ninety minute performance will ensure that they will be lost as Arsenal discovered on Saturday. Big wins must be followed up by big wins as this is the month where remaining games turn from double into single digits.
This is the month where Chelsea play Tottenham at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United lock horns with Liverpool at Old Trafford, Tottenham seek bragging rights over Arsenal at White Hart Lane, Chelsea's Jose Mourinho and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger will continue their grudge match at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United's David Moyes will hope to recover pride in a home derby against Manchester City, Arsenal seek to inflict a crazy scoreline of their own at the expense of Manchester City, and Liverpool could extinguish Tottenham's hopes for Champions League football at Anfield. By the end of March, the dust will have settled on these pitches turned battlefields and Liverpool will have just six games left.
Regardless of what happens in the other matches, what can we reasonably expect from games against Manchester United (away), Cardiff (away), Sunderland (home), and Tottenham (home) in the form Brendan Rodgers' side is in?
On 1 April 2014, Brendan Rodgers will be two months shy of two years as Liverpool manager. If Liverpool remain within four points of Chelsea and Manchester City (don't forget we do have a fake lead over one of them) no Liverpool fan will be foolish in claiming that home games against Manchester City and Chelsea will be title deciding matches with Liverpool's own glory at stake. Until then folks, let's take it one game at a time and dare to dream. Liverpool are unbeaten in 2014, kept a clean sheet away in a victorious trip to St Mary's, only Jose Enrique's participation is doubtful for the remaining league games, and Rodgers' charges are consolidating wins with wins.
Liverpool exacted revenge for their only home defeat of the season and Papa and Mama are on their way back too. Dare to dream?