We will regard this season as Liverpool’s – regardless of their late slip-up
Though City may claim the title, Brendan Rodgers has ensured that the Merseyside giants are real contenders again
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez shows his anguish following his side’s costly draw against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Six days ago, Liverpool had a clear pathway to their first league title since 1990. They were 3-0 up at Crystal Palace and the ‘as it stands’ table showed they had 83 points. Manchester City had 80 and though the probability was that City would get to 83 on Wednesday by beating Aston Villa, which they did, Liverpool’s total meant that they would be going into the last game of the season level with City.
City would be top on goal difference but they would be aware of Liverpool’s presence, of red pressure.
Then Crystal Palace scored three. As that unfolded, City’s task against Villa became less stressful and Liverpool’s clear pathway began to sprout thickets of doubt. What if?
What if Steven Gerrard had not slipped against Chelsea? What if Glen Johnson had closed down Damien Delaney with rather more commitment in the 79th minute at Palace? What if, 3-0 up, Liverpool had not gone searching for goal four or five? What if?
These are understandable questions. But we are in danger of becoming entangled in what might have been, when it would be more instructive and, for Liverpool, calming, to focus on what has been. And rather than a sense of loss, there would be a sense of gain, because Liverpool’s achievement this season is to have made themselves relevant again.
Any red regret at the dramatic late developments at Selhurst should be set against red pride that, as they prepare for the final day, Liverpool still have a chance of being Premier League champions.
Whatever happens tomorrow, their season has not been about fading away, but about burning again.
It is inconceivable that Liverpool will not win on Sunday, probably heavily, against Newcastle United, a team barely going through the motions for a club hollowed out.
That means City must avoid defeat against West Ham if they are to become champions for the second time in three seasons. Given that City beat West Ham 9-0 on aggregate in the League Cup semi-final in January, a Hammers victory would stun more than City.
But at Anfield, Liverpool will play as if there is that possibility. If the expected occurs and City win, then Liverpool will come second. They will have accumulated 84 points.
It will be only the second time in 12 years that Anfield has produced a serious challenge.
Five years ago Rafa Benitez cajoled Liverpool close to Manchester United – Benitez’s team of Reina, Carragher, Alonso, Gerrard and Torres chased down United and got 86 points in the process.
What happened next is what should steady Liverpool nerves about what’s gone on in their last two matches. From 86 points and second place, Liverpool tumbled to 63 points and seventh place. As Roy Hodgson replaced Benitez and Kenny Dalglish replaced Hodgson, Liverpool slumped. It was considerably worse than conceding those goals against Chelsea and Palace.