Nothing but smiles at Anfield after Liverpool’s season on the brink

It could still happen, of course. Some sort of remarkable union between Stewart Downing’s left foot and Andy Carroll’s head which brings joy to Liverpool supporters a year after the duo’s underwhelming Anfield spells ended. It’s safe to assume that it won’t though.

No, it looks as though it’ll be Manchester City’s Premier League title now, and a very deserving one it’ll be too.

There is a school of thought amongst City’s fans that, amidst the hysteria of Liverpool’s title challenge – the most unlikely in Premier League, post-1992 history? Certainly since the early days – and the hilarity that Reds, City and other supporters have experienced whilst watching Manchester United this season, that the team from the Etihad Stadium have been somewhat overlooked and not given the credit they deserve. They’re probably right, but why is that such a bad thing?

Manuel Pellegrini’s demeanour and his approach during his first season in a pretty daunting job has been exemplary.

He has ensured that City have usually looked and acted like the top dogs in the country, and that is what they are about to be. With the biggest wage bill in world sport behind them, surely they expect to be where they are right now though. Why go chasing credit?

So whilst it will – bar some sort of Sam Allardyce-sized shock – be their picture on the front cover of the story of the season, much of the contents within will be about Liverpool – action, drama, comedy, the lot.

Perhaps the Reds could have handled their title challenge differently if only they were prepared for it, with one look at their squad emphatically confirming that they were not.

In the matches against Chelsea and Crystal Palace which eventually – although we still must say probably – proved their undoing, Brendan Rodgers was left looking to the likes of Iago Aspas and Victor Moses to change things for him when they weren’t going to plan. And that’s just the players he brought on.

An injury to Jose Enrique in October which ruled the Spanish left-back out for the rest of the season left Rodgers with arguably only 17 recognised senior professionals in his squad – amongst them Aspas, Moses, the declining Kolo Toure, the erratic Aly Cissokho and perennial reserve Brad Jones.

Youngsters were always going to need to step up to supplement that group, but the manner in which Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan did just that was truly remarkable.

Many felt that Sterling had lost his way after a prolonged exposure to the first-team and a ridiculously early England cap last season, whilst Flanagan would have gone out on loan had any club higher than League One level wanted him. There will be a few of those feeling pretty foolish now.

And so these two players were pitched into a side which were suddenly showing no fear. After all, what was there to be scared of? There were no expectations at Anfield this season other than to challenge for a Champions League place. By late January one of those already seemed sewn up.

So it carried on; this surge which had reached 11 wins in a row until Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea roadblock arrived on Merseyside two weeks ago. Suddenly it was all there in front of Liverpool. Win this and they were almost, almost home. ‘Don’t let it slip,’ in the words of the captain.

Yet he did and they did, with the collapse at Crystal Palace last Monday only confirming that this probably wasn’t a team ready to win the league just yet – although there’s that word ‘probably’ again.

Will they be ready in the near future? Yes, why not? When you go from eighth and seventh to second and first then you should believe that anything is possible. Rodgers’ growing managerial maturity, the development of Sterling, Flanagan, Jordan Henderson and others, the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge partnership, Champions League football, funds to strengthen where necessary (paging every defender’s agent), all the ingredients are there to further improve, and if they do get up there again then this experience could serve them in good stead. Perhaps they need to be a little calmer next time, to simply want this a little less, if that's possible.

There will be those who’ll look to knock them, of course. Those who’ll state that this was their best chance, that they are just a tribute act to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle of 1996 – who dropped 21 points in their last 13 games of the season compared to Liverpool’s current tally of five – but the Reds would have taken listening to them at the beginning of the campaign.

Now at the end of it there will probably be regrets, probably be sighs and probably be a number of ‘what ifs?’, but there will definitely be a great deal of smiles from the club’s fans too.

Would they go through it all again?

Yeah. They probably would.  


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