Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mathematically clear...

I've mentioned before that I feared playing West Ham and Crystal Palace away far more than Man City and Chelsea at home. That's not meant to do the current 2nd and 3rd placed teams in the league a disservice, and I'm keenly aware that both of them could yet drive a nail right through our title challenge.

It isn't even that there is any specific history with West Ham and Crystal Palace (although Palace did famously shock Liverpool in the semi's of the FA Cup in 1990). Indeed the names of the teams don't matter.

Sam Allardyce. Tony Pulis. They matter.

Two managers who stand for the polar opposite of what Brendan Rodgers is building at Liverpool. They play old school English football turned up to 11. And the depressing thing is that they play it well. That's why as much as I detest their brand of football, I fear it. I fear it because it works. It works especially well against teams with mental fragility or those that aren't used to getting 'down and dirty' (see Arsenal on every away trip to Stoke since, well forever).

Liverpool for the last few years have been poster boys for mental fragility. From the players to the crowd, there are games you just sense aren't going to go our way. The heads go. Then the result follows.

But this is a different Liverpool. The players have shown none of the 'head problems' that have haunted us over the years as we so often failed in our quest for consistency. The West Ham game was handled with the kind of efficiency expected of champions. It was nail-biting for those watching at home, but we dealt with everything that came our way. Most importantly, we didn't crumble when the referee made the ludicrous decision to allow their goal to stand. On the stroke of half-time, that's the kind of event that would have seen the older Liverpool sides cave in, come the second half.

West Ham beaten. Sam Allardyce slain. 3 more points. Time to move on. It's Brendan Rodgers way.

Mental fragility in the fans is, of course, another matter. The atmosphere at home games since the derby has been immense, but that doesn't mean the doubts aren't lingering. We could all do with a session on the couch of Dr Steve Peters to talk about our 'inner chimp'. As fans we are constantly looking over our shoulders. Constantly second guessing ourselves and our team.

What if we don't score early?
What if Man City win their games in hand?
What if they score first?
What if, what if, what if...

That's what years of self-doubt does to a fan-base raised on success but struggling to remember the time when the success actually happened.

One what if we no longer need to worry about is Man Utd. For years it was the barometer of any Liverpool fan - how close are we to Man Utd? It is now mathematically impossible for Man Utd to catch Liverpool. And there are still 5 weeks of the season left. The last time that happened so early was when I was 12. We won the title that year. Looking for signs and portents is another key trait of the Liverpool fanbase.

Man Utd aren't in our thinking anymore. We have bigger fish to fry. There's a title to play for and a different sort of dragon to slay. Man City visit on Sunday confident and still favourites for the title. A draw would be a good enough result for them, and they know it.

What they don't know. What they can't possibly comprehend, is what they will have to contend with at Anfield. Against Everton, Arsenal and Spurs I genuinely haven't witnessed an atmosphere like that in a league game before. People talk of the great European nights, but this is different. This is Liverpool fans hungry for success and believing that it can happen.

It is Man City who will need to guard against mental fragility on Sunday. It is they who will have to rise to the challenge of quieting an Anfield crowd that is no mood to concede defeat now.

In the words of many a fan on many an internet forum all week. It's gonna be epic!

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