There seems to be an interesting scenario Liverpool FC currently faces as actual title challengers. The status "title challenger" is used loosely as most fans would not dare criticise the side for finishing third considering last season's exploits, the last two transfer windows, and the financial power of top four neighbours. Despite what the most prudent Liverpool supporter would claim, Brendan Rodgers and his merry men cannot be dismissed as potential champions.
Diversion aside, back to this "interesting scenario" for Liverpool and company. It is something that has been touched upon in previous editions of ETW, most pointedly in "Questions and Answers". A piece that was hastily written in the build-up to the away tie against Manchester United has kept bobbing around in the recesses of a tortured skull familiar to these cherished parts. Manchester City and Chelsea are favourites for the league title. This is not some form of kidology or an attempt to dampen expectations for faithful supporters who live in hope for brighter days.
The cold and lonely facts are this: Liverpool may not necessarily win the title even if they win all their remaining league games. This may change this week. Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City play local rivals at Old Trafford in midweek and entertain Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in his 1,002nd game this weekend. If Man City fail to win either then Liverpool, provided the side retains its majestic winning streak, would be in the position to win the league by virtue of winning all the remaining games on offer. Still, more points are surely to be dropped in the title race but it is a position that all connected with the club should be proud of.
Liverpool's rivals possess all the necessary advantages to thwart a dream title win and even in the event of such an unlikely event, Liverpool would not be considered favourites for the following season. The staggering wealth that Chelsea and Manchester City can call upon in aid of trophies is staggering and while Manchester United retain such power, an absence from the land of milk and honey could disrupt any transfer plans this summer. Even Arsenal, those perennial top four aristocrats, have a wider financial scope than Liverpool after negotiating a tricky period after moving to a new stadium. Thrashings away to top four rivals are symptomatic of a deeper problem but only three points separate Liverpool from Arsenal. Despite all the advantages held by other members of the top four, Liverpool could enter April with a simple equation: win to win the title.
To even countenance how to solve such a "simple equation" Liverpool must win the next game and it is the only way for a brighter Liverpool day. The Premier League entertainers answered the question that Manchester United posed as they did when they travelled to Southampton. The questions were different but held similar importance. Southampton asked Liverpool whether they could find a way to beat a notoriously difficult opponent, one that has managed to impose their strengths and harshly expose Liverpool's weaknesses against a high-tempo pressing side. While the answer was emphatic in its result, it was not in its delivery. Nonetheless, three away points were secured along with a welcome clean sheet.
Read and Cry
Read and Cry
Manchester United still possess individuals capable of upsetting Liverpool but Liverpool's victory proved that David Moyes' team is too weak in its attacking cohesion, tactical formulation, and application to do so. Neutrals thought Liverpool were favourites and so did David Moyes, whose observations incurred a delicious telling off from Brendan Rodgers. Could Liverpool travel to Old Trafford and repeat a famous win almost to the day 5 years ago in the same matchday? The answer was surprising in its ruthlessness. Of course and Liverpool would not even need to be at their best to do so.
Cardiff was a simple yet notoriously difficult question. Can a relegation threatened side be defeated and will momentum be maintained heading into two home games to round off the month? That will not be a problem ladies and gentlemen yet we regretfully inform you that a third successive clean sheet will not be served. However, as a token of appreciation for your unyielding support and endless suffering, please accept a doubling of goals scored compared to the previous two away games. We sincerely hope that this banquet of goals will sate your desire for defensive solidity as there will be a number of backline leaks. Thank you for your co-operation.
Sunderland's question is up next and other questions further ahead can wait for now. Can Liverpool do what they usually do at home to virtually any side in the division to close the gap to Chelsea to just a single point? Will Brendan Rodgers realise the need to provide significant minutes for Lucas Leiva and Mamadou Sakho to accelerate their reintegration in a title race where the most reliable course of action is to expect the unexpected? Sakho may be needed against sides such as West Ham and Crystal Palace who rely on aerial threats and physical shouldering. A more compelling reason would be that the French international is probably Liverpool's best centre back. Lucas may be required to add extra defensive insurance to protect a lead or add greater protection to Liverpool's centre backs.
The benefits of Joe Allen's increased involvement ensures that Liverpool have another midfielder who is sharp and ready to contribute to any match at any stage. It is hoped that Lucas and Sakho will provide similar options even if their respective lengths of injuries, the club's schedule, and the delicate time of the season make it unlikely to expect any significant rotation. Yet the home game against Sunderland offers Liverpool an opportunity for Rodgers to make a calculated alteration with future games in mind while also focusing on the task at hand. No team is guaranteed to beat any other for victories must be earned yet Liverpool triumphing over Sunderland along with some rotation from the start or from the bench would be the most satisfying outcome on Wednesday.