WHISPER it quietly but a season has been revived. From the depths of despair following those miserable back to back defeats to West Brom and Zenit St Petersburg last month, Liverpool’s response has been impressive.
Four wins, 15 goals and an array of positives – from the ruthless dismantling of Wigan to the gutsy fightback against the odds to claim the scalp of Tottenham.
Brendan Rodgers’ critics have been silenced but this is no time for anyone to rest on their laurels.
If this season of transition finished now it would be marked as satisfactory. A top six finish – achieved at a gradual rate of progress following such a troubled start – would provide proof of the Reds going in the right direction under Rodgers, despite the disappointment of shortcomings in the cup competitions.
However, there is still so much to play for. There is a window of opportunity to climb higher and land Liverpool’s highest Premier League finish since Rafa Benitez’s side were runners-up in 2009.
Rodgers has refused to be drawn on the Reds’ ambitions over the final nine matches but supporters have done the math.
Not only is there talk of overhauling Arsenal and taking the Europa League spot but also reeling in Chelsea and claiming that final Champions League place.
It’s not simply blind optimism. While others falter as a gruelling campaign takes its toll, Liverpool are clicking into gear. There is no fixture backlog for Rodgers to contend with. Just one game a week, an abundance of recovery and preparation time and a run-in which should hold few fears if current standards are maintained.
In Luis Suarez, Liverpool boast the top flight’s most blistering talent in the form of his life and a captain in Steven Gerrard, who rather than wilt under the strain of playing every minute of every league game is having an ever greater influence on proceedings.
Today’s trip to Southampton is followed after the international break by Aston Villa (a), West Ham (h), Reading (a), Chelsea (h), Newcastle (a), Everton (h) and Fulham (a) before the curtain comes down against QPR at Anfield. Recent history shows that if Liverpool are going to mount a late bid for the top four there is precious little room for manoeuvre. With 45 points on the board already and 27 left to play for, the perfect finish would leave the Reds on 72 points.
Tottenham finished in fourth place in 2011/12 on 69 points. In the seasons prior to that fourth position was occupied by Arsenal (68pts), Tottenham (70pts), Arsenal (72pts), Liverpool (76pts), Arsenal (68pts), Arsenal (67pts), Everton (61pts), Liverpool (60pts) and Chelsea (67pts). The average points tally for the team finishing in the final Champions League place over the past decade is 68. To achieve that Rodgers would need to mastermind the kind of consistency Liverpool haven’t produced since Benitez’s side equalled the club record of 11 straight victories (nine in the league) from March to May 2006.
Assuming Tottenham last the pace, the Reds would also need both Arsenal and Chelsea to fade. With both London clubs hampered by unrest among supporters and with managers under intense pressure that is certainly possible.
Chelsea’s seven-point cushion on Liverpool with a game in hand looks daunting. However, with them still involved in the FA Cup and Europa League, at the end this month they will embark on six games in the space of just 15 days, including a trip to Russia to face Rubin Kazan three days before they take on Tottenham in the league.
As well as an emotional return to Anfield, Rafa Benitez also has to take his side to Old Trafford. A top four finish wasn’t demanded or expected of Rodgers this season. It remains a long shot and will look out of sight once again if maximum points aren’t secured at St Mary’s today. But while there is a glimmer of hope Liverpool must cling to it and turn up the heat on those above them. There are no trophies to be won over the next two months but the prize up for grabs is sizeable.