Observing the concluding third of last night's match from my exclusive vantage point behind the couch, your scribbler was reminded that for all the giddy delight and wide-eyed glee that comes with a genuine title challenge, there is also an attendant anxiety which can trigger the kind of profanity-driven melt-downs that would make a character in a Tarantino movie blush demurely. Such was my agitated perturbation during the closing stages of the Anfield encounter with Sunderland, that I fear my beloved daughter, sensibly ensconced three rooms away, may never be able to look me in the eye again having surely heard the the blood-curdling ululations and swear-ridden admonishments that emanated from her father's normally soft-spoken mouth.
It's a cruel business, this happiness. They tell you it's wonderful, the duplicitous devils -- a cornucopia of fluffy kittens, unicorns and endearing on-pitch love-ins, they'd have you believe -- but they're wickedly beguiling you, gentle reader. Happiness hurts. The sensational highs are more about relief than exultation. By the time the final whistle blew last night, most of us, shattered husks of humanity, were more concerned with our coronary health than the pulchritudinous vista of the Premier League table. Nonetheless, not one of us, emotionally confused and physically marred as we are, would swop the current reality for another. Seven games remain and Liverpool might yet be champions. I know. I KNOW. Now, put that oxygen mask back on, Madam, and please Sir, I've told you that drip is an essential part of the recovery process.
Thankfully, the man charged with steering the team through the concluding part of this most propitious of seasons is the picture of serene sang froid. Brendan Rodgers has never feared a camera or a microphone and the man's quiet self-possession has therefore been wrongly pegged by multifarious detractors as arrogance. It's not. He's simply a man with a plan in which he steadfastly believes and right now, that plan is working in the most spectacular of ways. Playing the most attractive attacking football in the league, Rodgers' Redmen have plundered 84 goals in 31 games and sit ominously, a solitary point behind Chelsea with Jose Mourinho's charges still to visit Anfield.
The eloquent and ever-enthusiastic Northern Irishman has been pleased by his team's "winning mentality" but is honest enough to admit that "poor defending" has made their progress more traumatic than it might otherwise have been. Against Sunderland, as has been the case on so many occasions this campaign, the manager insisted his team were "dominant" but needed to be patient and "show calmness." He knowingly avoided the more unpalatable facts that a team orchestrated by Lee Cattermole, in his implausibly high-waisted shorts, had his title challengers pinned back for long periods towards the end and that Liverpool's utterly terrifying uselessness when presented with a cross of any kind almost cost them the points. Still though, a win is a win and we can always rely on Rodgers to mine the positivity from any given scenario and his sensible focus is on the next game only.
"We keep looking in front, that's always been the mantra for us," the manager averred. "Rather than looking behind, we're always looking ahead of us. There aren't too many ahead of us now. We've just got to keep working well and stay calm. We're one point behind Chelsea now, having played the same games; we've still got to play them here. More importantly, we just now recover and look to our next game. We just keep chalking up the wins - seven wins in a row, which is incredible at this level with teams so competitive. We'll aim to keep that going at the weekend."
Displaying a pleasing ability to shift pressure away from his players, Rodgers preferred to focus on the burden of expectation that other sides must deal with. Without resorting to the kind of mealy-mouthed utterances one expects from ocular terrorist and Sherwoodian gilet disciple, Mourinho, Rodgers simply points out that his team are the new boys in the "conversation" and that Chelsea and Manchester City, having both recently won titles with their talent-stuffed super-squads, are easily favourites. In fact, the Liverpool manager insists, it is presumed such expensively assembled teams would be in every title shake-up.
"For us, there's probably not the expectancy, certainly this year. People probably looked at us and thought we would tail off. Looking at Manchester City and the squad that they have and the money they are spending, there is expectancy there. Chelsea, probably likewise because they have been dominant over a number of years. The pressure will be there, but for us the pressure is for ourselves, because we're Liverpool - one of the biggest football clubs in the world. We want to represent the club, we want to be winners. Thankfully, I think we're on that path. I felt in the second part of the season, we would become stronger because of the nature of our game; the nature of our game is to get on the ball, to play, to pass and to move.
"Tonight, there were long spells where we were very good at that. As the season goes on, we'll embrace that pressure and enjoy it. I think it's just reinforcing about the calmness. We reinforce to the players to dominate the ball. We've had a wonderful season up until now, but there's still a way to go. The message to the supporters is just to keep believing in what we're doing, which they have done. They've seen the methods develop over the last 18 months, and our idea is to stay calm under pressure."
He really is growing nicely into the role of Liverpool manager, is Brendan Rodgers. In fact, he's almost reinventing it for a new media-saturated era, to a certain extent. As we can see from his most recent words, the comparatively young coach is unafraid of citing the club's historical greatness but he has total faith that his "methods" will help to build a glorious future. On the basis of this season's magnificent efforts to date, it would take a thoroughly lugubrious wretch to argue that he has not at least begun that building process with considerable élan. So, you heard the man, keep believing.