Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge - a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve - to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man. Dare we ask for more in life?
- Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's Prime Minister and notable advocate of Pan-Africanism
The task ahead is great indeed accursed and afflicted readers. The angels do not sing, and Fowler has not yet reconciled with the sinful. We are not in the wilderness, but the land of milk and honey may very well be beyond us all. Liverpool began the weekend in eighth position, behind five teams obstructing the path to a brighter fortune. Three separated by three points travelled in search of maximum points, while two invited visitors with the intention keeping pace with those travellers above them. Liverpool also journeyed with anything but victory unthinkable.
Liverpool won. West Ham United won. Tottenham Hotspur won. Arsenal won. Manchester United won. Southampton won. Too much winning and not enough losing for Liverpool fans. Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing continued their fine form this season to dismiss an increasingly desperate Hull City. Christian Eriksen struck late once again to secure a 2-1 victory over Sunderland. Arsenal produced a peculiarly solid performance to deservedly best Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester United continued to be unconvincing in victory against a QPR side that wasn't as hapless as their away results have illustrated to date. Southampton visited the former home of managerial titan Alan Pardew where goals from January signing secured three points. Ronald Koeman and company have potentially picked up another key loan to complement a number of high-performing permanent additions.
Signature Wins Reveal Depth in Liverpool's Squad
Convincing wins over Tottenham and Swansea may be months apart but illustrate that Brendan Rodgers has a number of decent tools to work with.
Sixteen games to go in the Premier League. One point behind West Ham, two behind Tottenham, four behind Arsenal, five behind Man United, and seven behind Southampton. Overtaking one should be feasible, two probable, three possible, four marginal, and all five extremely doubtful. To secure Champions League football from Liverpool's current position would require acceleration as great as Donovan Bailey's gold winning example in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Whatever you've seen from Liverpool so far, you'll need to see a lot more in the Premier League or Europa League to hear that cherished song next season. More "Tottenham Hotspur performances" and an improvement on a 4-1 win at Anfield that lacked complete control suggested by the scoreline. Mix in a healthy amount of Daniel Sturridge with a sprinkling of striker support with a stronger case of This is Anfield. These are all vital ingredients among many others that need to synchronise over the coming months.
However, Liverpool have domestic cup concerns before hosting the magnificent managerial mountain known as Sam Allardyce accompanied by a clutch of former players. Dangerous. After the upcoming trio of national cup games, Brendan Rodgers' side will face West Ham (h), Everton (a), Tottenham (h), possible 5th Round FA Cup tie, Besiktas (h), Southampton (a), Besiktas (a) and Manchester City (h) from the end of January to the beginning of March in the Premier League and Europa League. Perhaps the goal would be to progress in the Europa League and at least remain within five points of fourth spot with eleven games remaining. Hope and options would legitimately exist for Liverpool with the Ides of March, a personal landmark in the football season, still to come.
Such a goal may not appear to be as ambitious upon first gaze, yet do not be fooled. Manchester United's schedule over this period is kind and Southampton's next five games balance tougher sides at home with struggling ones away. Arsenal should build on a fine away win with the opponents that lie in wait over the next six weeks. Tottenham's commitments at home and abroad over this period mirror Liverpool's somewhat. By the beginning of March, both sides may be thankful for the passage to paradise Europe's second-tier club competition offers. Having seven magical games in Europe may be far preferable to skipping ahead of two teams from three that are all seven to ten points ahead with eleven games or so to go. March may present interesting questions for Mauricio Pocettino and Brendan Rodgers.
The Europa League presents a tricky round of 32 opponent in Besiktas. Both Arsenal and Tottenham couldn't score in Istanbul, and no Gerrard narrative will alter the fact that the Turkish side merits respect. They're in a tight race for the Süper Lig title with Fenerbache and Galatasary, and will test Brendan Rodgers on his return to Europa League action. Looking at Liverpool's Champions League group, Besiktas should be no different to FC Basel and Ludogorets, if not better. Liverpool have found better form and an effective system so far than those months involving Champions League football. European football, it seems, always presents a different set of challenges to the hustle, bustle, and current mediocrity of the Premier League. Will 3421/343 triumph in Europe?
As for the Premier League, what can Liverpool expect from days and weeks ahead? Last season, West Ham and Tottenham would have been dismissed at Anfield, and Brendan Rodgers hasn't lost to Everton since taking over Liverpool. Roberto Martínez has never beaten Brendan Rodgers in the Premier League with Wigan Athletic or Everton too. Even If Liverpool picked up seven points from those three games, a loss at St Mary's would be unthinkable with Southampton continuing to pick up points to comfortably nestle in a top four slot. Taking ten points from Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Everton underlines the quality in Koeman's squad together with a healthy goal difference.
Over the past six games, only Southampton have taken more points than Liverpool, and North London's finest are only a single point behind in the form table. Since losing at Old Trafford, fetching form has halved the distance between England's two most successful clubs but has made little difference elsewhere in the race for the top four. That may overlook the achievement of remaining in the chasing pack as well as being in a position to take advantage of any rival missteps in the future. Simply put, Liverpool need to keep on winning games for any of the recent progress made to really matter and would probably need to beat West Ham, Tottenham, and Southampton to keep in touch with direct rivals.
To be the one we need, Rodgers just needs to make effective and simple decisions. Players who are playing well stay on beyond half time and the hour mark. Players who aren't playing well shouldn't make the side in defensive or attacking positions irrespective of their status at the club.
Rodgers addressed the concerns voiced in The Red Messiah edition, with help from Steven Gerrard's announcement of a Los Angeles adventure along with a new formation from the dossier. The Football Gods conspiring to banish defensive incompetence as well as physical sluggishness also helped the team to register clean sheets in three successive away games in the league for the first time since the late 1990s. Now Liverpool need something more.
The improvements shown by Brendan Rodgers and his group will be challenged. The two games against Chelsea are part of a period of pertinence for Liverpool where managerial tweaks during games, form of youngsters, a seemingly suitable formation, balance of a tactical system, and doubts surrounding struggling players will be examined fiercely. There may be a cup final to look forward to, another round of the FA Cup to contest in March, a top four race that still involves Liverpool, and a European campaign with two plump plums to pluck from the tree in Warsaw.
Liverpool managers and players are judged by testing times; it's time to see what we've got.
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