It’s a new year. The season has ticked past its half-way point. And Liverpool prepare to face Manchester City seven points clear of the defending champions and having never been this well positioned to win the a league title in the Premier League era.
“This is Liverpool’s biggest Premier League fixture since April 2014 and if they win it will be their title to lose,” said former Liverpool centre half Jamie Carragher, who insists that while Liverpool have challenged before, they haven’t ever been in this position.
“Of course, much can still go wrong, such as injuries and suspensions at key times. Over recent weeks questions have also been raised as to how well Liverpool can handle the pressure. Will they thrive or succumb under the weight of expectation?”
Those on the outside will point to past challenges that ended in failure as reasons they might succumb to pressure, but Carragher remembers those sides as challengers in tight races who deserve credit for coming close—not mocking for letting it slip away.
In 2013-14, the season of The Slip, they may have been Christmas Champions, but after 20 games and the turn of the year they were fourth in a tight race. In 2008-09 they were first but with just a three point advantage. In 2001-02, they were fourth.
Today, they are six points clear of Tottenham and seven of City and with the best defensive record in England. A loss might well make it a race again. A win would put this Liverpool side in a place none other has been in the Premier League era.
“Houllier’s 2002 run, from January we won 13 of 15 Premier League games,” he added. “We drew the Merseyside derby and our only defeat was away to Spurs. Our problem was not over-excitement but chasing one of the best Arsenal teams ever.
“In 2009, we won ten of our final eleven Premier League games, a 4-4 draw with Arsenal the only setback. Rodgers’ side won 12 of its last 14 Premier League games, the Chelsea defeat the only loss. The perception lingers they froze when in fact they excelled.”
Liverpool, in those races, didn’t slip. The challenged. With a win today, they would for the first time ever in the Premier League era be true favourites. That’s pressure—real pressure. But it’s a new pressure, a first for Liverpool in more than a generation.