Every game is important. It's "squeaky bum time" and one should only focus on the next game. There are no easy games at the highest level. No team is immune from defeat and a week is a short time in football. These are all phrases, clichés, and sayings that everyone connected with football will be familiar with. However, there are some fixtures that are more equal than others and they have surrounded Liverpool since the end of January.
When West Ham travelled to Anfield in Liverpool's last league fixture in January, the home side had played 120 minutes of football earlier in the week and victory would make it five wins in six league games since the home draw against Arsenal. Raheem Sterling's second-half opener and Daniel Sturridge's goalscoring return from injury secured three points that saw Liverpool leapfrog a potential top four rival into seventh spot. Since then, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Manchester City, Burnley, and Swansea City have failed to halt Liverpool's run. A goalless draw in the derby was followed by triumph after triumph whether they were thrilling, fortunate, inspired, or professional in nature.
A local rival in an away derby, two top four rivals in succession, the reigning league champions, a visiting thorn for the league's top two sides in recent months, and the scene of defeat for both Manchester United and Arsenal. This is easily the most difficult run of Liverpool's league campaign. Manchester United and Arsenal are up next, but an international break separates the two. Liverpool faced a prospect of needing to maintain form to chip away at the gap created by a poor start to the season and remained in seventh after the victory over West Ham until beating Southampton to finish February's schedule. However, Southampton remained in fifth until Liverpool defeated Manchester City. Liverpool's current position has taken considerable efforts to achieve, and with four points separating Merseyside's finest from sixth and seventh with a possibility to move into fourth on Sunday, the forthcoming game could be an end of a set of fixtures where a chase for a seemingly unreachable goal could finally be achieved.
Liverpool haven't been in fifth spot since August and have not touched the top four since the opening day of the season. Every game with Manchester United means something but not every game will be like this. Louis van Gaal's side sits in the spot that Liverpool want, can take from them with victory, and will settle in for roughly two weeks during the international break. Eight league games follow English football's biggest rivalry, which certainly ensures that any positive result for Liverpool may not necessarily be definitive ... but it will mean something. Resumption of football begins with a trip to Arsenal, a fact that has not been overlooked, but the run of fixtures where Liverpool had to chase, had to win, had to wait, and had to win again could be over.
Catching up is mightily impressive but streaming ahead could be even better. Louis van Gaal will have plenty to consider after the game with home games against Aston Villa and Manchester City followed by away meetings with Chelsea and Everton in what could be a trying April league schedule. Trips to Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea, and Stoke City spell danger for Brendan Rodgers over the next two months, but there are fixtures where it becomes extremely difficult to look ahead or consider anything else except for what is at stake. Revenge, three points, fourth spot, derailing the enemy, striking a psychological blow, taking their place and making it ours, and exposing how hollow the punches landed at Old Trafford last weekend really were. What could be better?
Imagine savouring all that during the international break.