Brendan Rodgers’ side can take a big step towards winning their first title since 1990 by beating Manuel Pellegrini’s men and the city is brimming with anticipation and excitement
By Jonathan Birchall
If you are a football fan and have never visited the city of Liverpool, come now. Come and see what this means. Come and see what this sport does to people. Come, see and remind yourself why you love this brilliant, ridiculous game.
I am not a Liverpool or Everton fan. On the contrary, the thought of Brendan Rodgers’ Tricky Reds – as they are now being called across Merseyside – winning the Premier League title is not something I relish. Watching them try, though, is absolutely compelling.
On Sunday evening, with Rodgers’ side back at the top of the league with a tight win over West Ham, the city centre was pulsating. The Grand National gave plenty cause for sore heads come the end of the week but out they came, the Liverpool fans, again: “We’re going to win the league”. They are probably right. The reasons to doubt them are fast disappearing.
The scariest thing as a football fan is seeing your team arrive for a match with a look of sheer cluelessness. When they are not expecting the script. When the game plan is useless. You can usually spot it after about five minutes. Liverpool are excellent at making opposition teams, and their managers, look like this.
I saw it in Tim Sherwood at Anfield and sat about 10 yards away from him as the Tottenham boss watched Liverpool tear his side to shreds a fortnight ago. Younes Kaboul and Danny Rose had the same look. Arsenal and Everton earlier this season too. In the same way that Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United made their opposition look tired and desperate at the end of a game, Rodgers can elicit flat feet and knocking knees from kick-off.
Manchester City will not be looking forward to their trip to Anfield on Sunday. Since losing to Southampton at home in September, Liverpool’s record in front of the Kop is 12 wins from 13 games with 46 goals scored. It is not a place you want to go and play football at the moment.
Rodgers understands that Liverpool should play in a stadium like this. Again, come and see it. Take the half-mile walk from Everton Valley up Walton Breck Road and see the Kop peek above the streets. Walk past The Stanley pub and the Golden Dragon Chippery and see it standing there, not much to look at but demanding respect. This is Anfield.
Roy Hodgson never understood this. A visit to Liverpool became a day out and a chance to get a result against the five-time European champions under the England manager’s forgettable reign on Merseyside. It was far too accommodating.
Any proof you need that these things matter on the pitch as much as off it, just take a look at United’s record at Old Trafford this season. Newcastle, West Brom and plenty others have turned up and fancied it for the first time in years.
The fear has gone. The word most often used for grounds like this is ‘fortress’, but it is not one applicable to Anfield. Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard – these are not footballers who want to keep teams out and away. Liverpool want anyone to come and have a go, City included.
Between them, Pellegrini’s men and Liverpool have scored 174 goals in the league. They have put four or more goals past their opposition 21 times this season. They are both pursuing the title by playing the most expressive football in the division for years. These are two teams who have become accustomed to embarrassing those they play. They will score more goals than you.
But for City, you wonder just how on Earth they can stop Brendan Rodgers’ team. They somehow keep on keeping on. Twenty-four years after their last title, Liverpool are performing without the millstone of their significant history hanging heavy. They are absolutely loving this.
And why not? Here they are, where they want to be. Come and see. Liverpool on the precipice. This is it.
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