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Where Will It All End?

Liverpool lie in seventh place, with only six games remaining of the current league campaign. As we half-heartedly ponder where the club will finish the season, broader questions of progress and development prod us unrelentingly.

Clive Brunskill

I grew up in rural Ireland playing Gaelic football, in a house with a Manchester United supporting father. It was, therefore, an act of treacherous defiance when the 8 year old me missed Under-10 training to watch the 1981 European Cup Final, which pitted my adopted Liverpool against the footballing behemoth of Real Madrid. The sight of Alan Kennedy celebrating the goal that secured Bob Paisley's third 'Big Ears' in five years will never leave me. My relationship with footballing success had started gloriously and would continue in a similar vein for a decade.

There is a certain freedom that comes with low expectations. Perennial nearly-men, like Roy Hodgson, deliberately foster such reduced aspirations because they create the kind of wiggle room which means that a draw is perceived as "utopia" and wretched lower league opposition are "formidable." What Hodgson didn't realise was that at Liverpool Football Club, no matter how far our star has fallen, the expectation is always to win.

Ask any Liverpool fan and they will shun the freedom of low horizons and run headlong into the arms of the prison warders of high achievement. Each of us craves the comparative confinement of lofty aspirations, where any loss is crushing and second place is abject failure. We find ourselves, currently, in an uneasy state, neither one thing nor the other. Before the judge and awaiting sentence, if you will.

The Rafa Benitez era created a belief that we were back amongst Europe's elite but that status exploded over a few horrible seasons, for reasons that have warranted several tomes worth of analysis. Kenny Dalglish returned to raise hope once more, after the disastrous reign of the current England incumbent, but after a shaky season, he was dispatched mercilessly, with the cup he won still warm in his hands.

Step forward Brendan Rodgers, the embodiment of a shiny new project with a new time-scale which decreed season 2012/2013 as "Year Zero." Valid questions can be raised about whether or not such invasive surgery was required. Was the recall of Benitez not an option? What about the likes of the excellent and experienced, Manuel Pellegrini? Such discussion is now moot, and Rodgers, an impressive man in his own right but with only a year of Premier League experience, is the gaffer.

As if by magic, expectations were ratcheted down again - at least, theoretically. As already intimated, the supporters of this club are pathologically incapable of accepting mediocrity and, based on the amount of vitriol aimed at Rodgers thus far, there is little patience for the inconsistency that must inevitably accompany the first season of an inexperienced manager as he attempts to rebuild a squad in his own likeness.

Ironically, Rodgers has been his own worst enemy when it comes to fan expectation. His persistent wittering about top four placement and the eminent status of the club, obliterated any remaining chances of a grace period of underachievement and 'bedding-in.' Taking their cue from the boss, it seemed that every member of the first team squad was lining up to reiterate Liverpool's lofty ambitions. 'Champions League? Why not?'

The disconnect between the messages being given to the media and the concept of "Year Zero" is the first and most damaging mistake made by Rodgers. There have been others, but the intention here is not to castigate a man I believe is capable of evolving into the manager and leader the club needs. He seems possessed of the right combination of stubbornness, ego and public humility. Many of his initiatives, methodologies, tactics and transfer dealings have been excellent. He's even recently wondered aloud if missing out on European competition next season mightn't be so bad. Learning on the job! Huzzah!

With six games left, Liverpool can potentially finish the season with a total of 67 points, just two off the 69 which gleaned Champions League qualification for Tottenham Hotspur last year. Alas, in a reality where we don't walk on rainbows and feed the unicorns in the park, it is more likely that there will be at least a couple of disappointing results in that half dozen.

Away matches to Reading, Newcastle and Fulham are all, in theory at least, winnable fixtures. Most will be disappointed with anything less than victory at the Madejski and at Craven Cottage. Alan Pardew's French colony are three points behind Fulham and only five clear of relegation, but they will likely provide the sternest test, after a recent upturn in their fortunes which just happened to correspond with the manager's removal of some risible facial furniture. Coincidence? I think not.

By contrast, our home matches include two of the most anticipated fixtures of the season. And the visit of Harry Redknapp. The return of Rafa Benitez on the 21st of this month will be a reminder to us fans of what it is to play a game where something is really at stake. The recent fraught rivalry with Chelsea has been one I've savoured. The added drama of having The Goateed One in the opposition dug-out will add to the tension, anxiety and bemusement. This one will be tough.

The pick of the bunch, though, is the derby. Everton come to Anfield on the 5th of May for our penultimate home match. I anticipate the tension being barely tolerable. This is as big a local league clash as there's been for a while. I'll be there and I hope to see a victory over David Moyes and his crimes against cardigans or at least another Suarez swan-dive in front of the manager of 'The People's Club.'

QPR will finish their campaign in Liverpool on the last day of the season. They must be beaten. Harry Redknapp's soulless mercenaries cannot be allowed to succeed. In all seriousness, a final day win at home is a genuine priority, as a lot of the good will going into the summer will evaporate quickly without the feel-good factor of an end of season victory.

So then, by dint of these rigorously scientific calibrations, I surmise that Liverpool may be on track for four wins from six, and a season total of 61 points. I don't know if that's an example of high or low expectations on my part. I've clearly over-thought it and managed to rive what there was left of my limited brain, so if you need me before Monday, I'll be lying down in a dark room watching re-runs of the glory days of my youth and gibbering incessantly about how a Paisley's worth two Fergusons.

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