Matches that matter have been few and far between in recent years, especially on a consistent basis. There's been Europa League nights and derbies and one-offs, but for the most part Liverpool have spent the past four seasons manufacturing meaning and table-watching. Their fate has been in the hands of non-compliant others, and their important matches have rarely turned out to be important for reasons other than sentiment.
There's a place for sentiment, of course, but it's a far better concept when it's coupled with actual meaning, and that's what Liverpool have gifted us this season. Trips to Cardiff City and West Ham, ones that previously inspired ambivalence and disinterest, have now come with a healthy dose of anticipation, excitement, and dread. And that's a wonderful thing, because they matter. Liverpool are relevant for the first time since 2009. This is the payoff--fear, anxiety, hope, and excitement. Matches that matter.
The matches that matter don't come much bigger than Sunday's visit from Manchester City, who currently sit four points off Liverpool in second place with two games in hand. It's a nervy prospect, facing Manuel Pellegrini's side, but the reverse fixture should do a fair bit to settle jangly nerves, and when combined with the sense of occasion that's sweeping Anfield, Brendan Rodgers feels that Liverpool should be plenty confident about their prospects:
"The beauty for us is that this game is at Anfield. It's a special place to play football. We will unleash the supporters this weekend on the opponent and it's a very, very difficult place now for people to come and play. I sense a real nostalgia about the place at the moment. There's a real feel of the old Liverpool and I'll always respect that, but it's important that it helps drive us forward in the future as a motivation rather than a hindrance."
The atmosphere will no doubt be intense, and also aiding Liverpool will be the return of Daniel Agger from injury. The Danish central defender missed the West Ham trip after suffering a knee injury in training, but Rodgers has made him available for selection on Sunday. That poses a challenge to the manager in terms of selection; Mamadou Sakho was tremendous in London last Sunday, but Agger's earlier return from injury ushered in a period of solidity at the back, and there's an argument to be made that his spot is as justified as Sakho's.
Whomever Rodgers picks, there's no doubt that Sunday will be a day to remember for all involved. Let's just hope it's for the right reasons on the Liverpool side of things.