After coming from behind twice to defeat Fulham 3-2 at Craven Cottage on Wednesday, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was glowing with praise for his high-octane side. It was the kind of gritty win that screamed ‘character’ and whispered ‘destiny’ just enough that Rodgers, albeit a wee bit reluctantly, had to admit that he had a dog in this Premier League title fight.
“I don’t do all that horse stuff, José is very good at all that sort of thing,” said Rodgers.
“Maybe we’re the chihuahuas that run in between the horses’ legs. I don’t know. But I do know we’re just about improving with each match.”
OK, so it’s just a chihuahua. Not a little horse like Mourinho or a jaguar like Pellegrini. But a tiny, quick, somewhat skiddish yet oddly tenacious pooch. The exact kind of animal the others might just overlook.
With Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at West Brom, Arsenal’s 0-0 stalemate with Manchester United and Manchester City’s match at Sunderland being postponed, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place clubs enjoy leads of just four, three and one point on Rodgers’ 4th placed Reds. Small margins in a league that runs through May 11th.
Liverpool has a lot going for it these days, but the four main factors as to why they have legitimate title hopes are as follows.
First, they are not currently playing in Europe. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City all have massive two-legged Round of 16 ties with Champions League opponents to play out over the next two months. Liverpool will be watching these contests from the sofa, legs up, relaxed and focusing on one thing – the Premier League (and perhaps, to an extent, the FA Cup).
Second, the five matches Liverpool has to play against Top 7 opponents are all, given the venue and the circumstances, very much winnable. They face Manchester United at Old Trafford on March 16th (two days before United’s second leg against Olympiacos), Spurs at Anfield on March 30th, City at Anfield on April 12th and Chelsea at Anfield April 26th. In front of the Kop, Liverpool always have a bit of an extra kick.
Third, they have the firepower to beat, nay, dismantle, any team they face (see Arsenal, Everton, Spurs).
Fourth, they have zero pressure to win the title. Chelsea, City and Arsenal have been in the hunt all year long and when some permutation of that group fails to win the title this year, ‘pressure’ will be one of the reasons journalist use to describe their downfall. The only pressure Liverpool faces is to qualify for Champions League. After that it’s all gravy.