First there was hope. Then there was a chance. After beating Manchester City on Sunday at Anfield, Liverpool are now title favourites. It's a position the club has never been in since the Premier League was formed over 20 years ago. It's a position almost none of Liverpool's players have ever been in and, for that matter, that many of the club's fans could be said to be tenuously familiar with at best.
After one of the most memorable games to be played at Anfield in recent memory, Liverpool are now title favourites with only four games to go. Win out, and Liverpool hit an untouchable 89 points to Manchester City's maximum points haul of 88 and Chelsea's 87. Nothing is yet guaranteed, but with a month left to go in the domestic season there's no better place to be than where Liverpool are now.
"All the lads and all the fans are believing we can do it now," said Jon Flanagan following the match, the players beginning to move from talk of hopes and maybes to determined expectation. "Stevie said in the huddle that we need to go again next weekend at Norwich and he's right. We haven't achieved anything yet and we all know that. Man City is gone and it's about the next game."
Liverpool's strongest Premier League challenge until now was 2008-09's ultimately futile chase of Manchester United, with Liverpool in the end unable to overcome one too many early draws. That year, Liverpool were always chasing—always counting on the side ahead of them stumbling. They amassed 86 points and the second best record in the club's top flight history; United didn't stumble.
After Sunday, Liverpool are now the side everybody else is chasing. They're also, if they win out, on pace to equal the best domestic season since Bill Shankly returned the club to the top flight in 1962. If Liverpool win out, Rodgers will have matched Bob Paisley's 1978-79 campaign that saw the club winning the title with 30 wins and eight draws across a 42 game season.
At the time, wins were only worth two points, but normalising to account for three points for a win and a 38 game season, Paisley's side would have earned between 88 and 89 points. The club amassed superior records in 1893-94 and 1904-05, on both occasions achieving promotion from the Second Division, but Paisley's 1978-79 campaign remains the high water mark in the top flight.
Somewhat misleadingly in the current context, the club's best points haul came at a time when wins were worth three points and clubs played 42 games. In no way should it take away from Kenny Dalglish's 92 point, title winning 1987-88 season, but over a shorter campaign it's likely Liverpool's total that season would have been nearer 81 points—a mark this side stands to easily eclipse.
"We've sent out a statement with a great performance," said Flanagan of the win that keeps this side on course for one of the most special seasons in the club's history. "City are a great side and we knew they would come on strong in the second half. There was a bit of sloppy defending from us for their two goals but we showed our spirit, kept playing, and Philippe stuck away a brilliant winner."
First there was hope; now there's expectation. Not only for Liverpool to end their long title drought and to capture a first Premier League title, but of a side capable of remaining resolute and finishing off a very special and largely unexpected season in such a way as to stand this season amongst the greatest in the club's long and storied history.
Even coming up short of that would, given the struggles of the past five seasons, make for a quite noteworthy campaign. Having gotten this far and adjusted expectations repeatedly upward, though, nobody—not the players or the fans or anyone else connected to the club—will be happy with that.
"We have to stay focused and prepare for Norwich," Flanagan insisted. "There are still another four games to be won and we can't allow things to slip. We need to keep going like this right to the end."
Ten wins in a row; four more to be certain of securing the title. Four more to put this Liverpool side alongside the club's greatest of all time.