This club is in the title race, ladies and gentlemen. But we already knew that. There are two league games to go and Liverpool still have much to play for. José Mourinho continued his excellent record against the league's better sides and even if Chelsea remain outsiders due to the fact that two other sides must stumble before they can take advantage, being no more than two points behind the leaders isn't something to be dismissed. Manchester City are three points behind Brendan Rodgers' charges with a game in hand but points on the table can often be advantageous.
If anything, all the sides occupying the top three slots have dropped points in unexpected fashion over the past few weeks and the deficiencies that plague all three may come to the fore before 11 May. Nothing has been decided yet but Sunday's defeat brought a wave of disappointment over Liverpool supporters. Why? The title race. Liverpool have rarely been close in a title race since 1991, the year Kenny Dalglish resigned. Arsenal may have finished seven points ahead of Liverpool in the 1990-1991 season but Dalglish's side were doing quite well until he resigned on 22 February 1991. Liverpool were defending champions that season and led for much of the first half of the season but Kind Kenny's last game in his first tenure at the club was a classic derby. Liverpool didn't recover from the loss of such a significant, successful figure and that is understandable considering the importance of the managerial position.
The 2001-2002 and 2008-2009 campaigns provided second place finishes but apart from that, genuine title tilts have been rare. Liverpool's were top in December 2001 but a heavy away defeat to Chelsea, a home defeat to eventual champions Arsenal, and draws with both Fulham and West Ham along with a stuttering January effectively ended any hopes for the title. Winning one game in nine isn't a way to follow up hitting the heights of the Premier League. Under Rafael Benítez, Liverpool were close to the title with only 2 defeats all season. December and January were key months in finishing behind Manchester United. There were no defeats but only three wins and far too many draws.
The 1996-1997 Premier League season under Roy Evans saw a talented Liverpool side falter after leading for much of the campaign due to indiscipline, maddening errors, and a lack of focus. Liverpool's numbers from 7 to 11 (McManaman, Collymore, Fowler, Barnes, and Redknapp) and new signing that wore the number 15 shirt from Borussia Dortmund (Patrik Berger) were some of my favourite players and they would be the ones that would provide the creative and attacking impetus for a title. Or so I thought. For those who are unfamiliar with that season, I thought Liverpool would win the title that season and Roy Evans recently spoke about it in an interview alongside Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish. The fact that he's still being asked about is telling and as a young fan in his mid-teens at the time, I believed it would be our time. By the time Rafa's title charge came round, I had already witnessed title race disappointment.
I didn't remember the 1991 title race but as a child, I read about Michael Thomas' dramatic goal in 1989 as it was everywhere. That was probably my first big memory as a Liverpool fan! Liverpool recovered to win the title the following year but since then, genuine title races have been scarce over the past quarter of a century. Maybe that's why we are so nervous because we have to win it this time. It's been so long, Stevie's never won it, we've played wonderful attacking football, we were so off the pace last year, we thought Champions League was a huge task to achieve this season and would be a wondrous feat, and everything's the worst.
The pain of dropping points so close to the finish line is part of the title race and some of us must wonder whether this will be the last one for a while. Scoring 96 goals in 36 games is certainly no fluke and a plus 50 goal difference dictates that Liverpool will be challenging for the title next year. Before then, there's the business of doing other things in the title race such as recovering from dropping points and being prepared to capitalise on any further twists and turns. It feels like all or nothing because Liverpool fans haven't enjoyed a consistent run of challenging for the title for say, three or four years. Can anyone be sure that Liverpool will challenge again? Such fears are probably unfounded but one can never, ever be sure.
It is strange that finishing on level points with Manchester City would be falling short because of goal difference but that only illustrates the progress Liverpool have made under Brendan Rodgers. This season has been one where Liverpool have legitimately challenged for the title and all we can do is support the team in wait of good news elsewhere so that Liverpool can take advantage. This is the world of the title race and while it's been rare for Liverpool fans over a long stretch of years, it's good to be involved in the range of emotions it brings.