The English Premier League doesn’t have a playoff system to determine its champion. The team that accrues the most points during the regular season wins that crown. Having said that, Saturday’s visit to Anfield by Manchester City to take on current league leader Liverpool could be the next best thing to a playoff.
This year’s EPL campaign is headed for one of the most spectacular finishes in its 22-year history. Four points separate Liverpool, Chelsea, and Man City for the top three spots respectively, the race for the fourth Champions League spot sees Arsenal and Everton with a single point between them, and the race for the spots being contested by the pair of points separating Tottenham Hotspur and the post-Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United.
Man City and their gargantuan payroll seems to be the favorites of the British football punditry; the perception being that expenditure has given them the strongest squad on paper, and that Liverpool and Chelsea will take each other out when they meet in two weeks at Anfield.
That view ignores some key points which will prove to be the difference in these last few weeks of the EPL season. Sit back and pour yourself a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course…) and consider the following points.
1) Liverpool Controls Their Own Destiny
Say what ever you will about the remainder of the schedule for all the teams at the top of the table, at some point Man City still has to gain four+ points in their last five matches, and number climbs to seven should the Red Merseysiders capture a win on Saturday. Even if Liverpool stumbles at home, if they win out, they will have captured their first domestic league title in 24 years. The aforementioned hosting of Chelsea looks to be the biggest obstacle to winning out, but even if they do lose that match, Man City still needs Liverpool to lose at least one more time, while they win out themselves. Doing so means a must-win return trip to Merseyside to face a resurgent Everton side, who is embroiled in a chase for Europe.
2) You Can’t Beat Home Cooking
Liverpool have only not won two matches at home this season (a 1-0 loss to Southampton in September, and a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in January) , and other than the aforementioned matches at Anfield against Man City and Chelsea, their remaining schedule features trips to bottom-dwellers Norwich and Crystal Palace, and a campaign-ending hosting of a Newcastle club which likely will have nothing to play for by then.
3) Scoring, Scoring, and Scoring
Simply put, the Reds are a scoring juggernaut. Liverpool has been finding the twine at a record pace, being powered by the duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. Together, they have given opposing defenders monstrous headaches all season long, and going down the stretch when matches tighten and scoring comes at a premium, the importance of scoring becomes magnified. If you don’t believe that, go back and look at what happened to Chelsea at Crystal Palace when they learned how costly lacking firepower in the offensive zone can be.
4) They Are The Hottest Team In The EPL
Forget about the fact that they have won nine straight matches. Forget about the fact they have been unbeaten in the EPL so far in 2014. Forget about the fact their last two losses were both on the road against Man City and Chelsea. As this campaign has marched on, Liverpool has only become stronger while both Man City and Chelsea have shown signs of faltering. In their last four matches, Chelsea has dropped 1-0 power outages to bottom-halfers Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, while Man City hasn’t really been tested since a 1-0 loss at home to Chelsea and a scoreless draw at Norwich.
5) Liverpool Has Nothing To Lose
You always want what you haven’t got, and while Liverpool remains the most decorated club in all of English football, they have yet to win a Premier League title. They won everything else, but that is the one crown they’ve yet to wear. You would think that would put a bit of pressure on the Reds, but that is not the case. The sad, but simple reality is that despite their illustrious history, Liverpool entered this season having nobody really expect anything from them. This is a club that appeared to be neck-deep in the very same malaise for which the post-Ferguson Manchester United seems destined.
After all, back in August, the prevailing attitude was that Liverpool was a club multiple years absent the Champions League, their last appearance in Europe was a somewhat feeble Europa campaign, they’d seen nothing recently but mid-to-early round exits from the FA Cup, and challenging for the Premiership seemed a lofty goal at best. That was before Suarez and Sturridge emerged as a nearly-unstoppable scoring combination, and manager Brendan Rodgers looks as if he has erased five years of mediocrity for the Reds.
During the 2008–09 campaign, Liverpool racked up 86 points, its highest Premier League points total ever, yet still finished behind Manchester United on the table. That disappointment led to the collapse in the 2009–10 season, in which Liverpool finished seventh in the EPL and failed to qualify for the Champions League. The 2010–11 campaign saw Liverpool on the verge of bankruptcy, which led the club’s creditors to petition the High Court to allow the sale of the club. This led to John W. Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox taking ownership of the club in October 2010.
Things didn’t get any better in 2011-12, a season that saw the Reds suffer their worst league finish in 18 years. This appeared to be the beginning of a long rebuilding period in Merseyside, and as mentioned, nobody really expected much from the Rodgers-led Reds in 2013-14.
In other words, no matter what happens, this season is already a win for Liverpool.
6) The Scars
Forget about the successes on the pitch; the 1980′s were a dark time for Liverpool. As much as time has moved on, the recent inquests about the Hillsborough disaster have re-opened many old wounds for the Reds fan base, one that saw the loss of 96 football fans on that dark day in 1989.
As tragic as Hillsborough was, the recently re-opened inquests have taken the focus away from the day most Liverpool fans would really love to forget. That would be the fatal riot known as the Heysel Incident, which was started by a bunch of hooligans claiming to be Liverpudlians, who breached a crowd containment barrier and caused a stampede that resulted in 39 deaths and over 600 injuries. As a result, all English fans were banned from Europe for five years.
That incident stained the names of Liverpool fans for decades, and still has an impact to this day. As trivial as it may seem in terms of what happened, losing does nothing to erase the past, but winning can help change an image.
007) Steven Gerrard
What else can you say about a man whose nickname is “James Bond,” and for whom there is an actual discussion to make him the actual 007. The Liverpool captain has been at his inspirational best this season since manager Brendan Rodgers switched him to playing a larger role on both ends of the pitch. The midfielder has been compelled to play a larger role in both setting up the strike game manifested in Suarez and Sturridge and directing the defense led by players like center-back Martin Skrtel.
There’s two things Gerrard wants more than anything else in terms of his legacy in English football. He wants to win a Premiership title as the captain of Liverpool, and he would love to be the captain of the national team which ended England’s 48-year World Cup drought. While both are technically possible, one has a far greater likelihood this year. The former explains why the All-Englander has been rolling through the Premier League like Jake and Elwood Blues; they were all on a mission.
Don’t get hung up on the fact that we making a “Blues Brothers” joke about the biggest Red out there, instead picture the rest of the Premiership chasing Gerrard as he hurtles toward the EPL title. Just like Jake and Elwood, it’s going to take a lot more than a Winnebago full of rednecks, some Illinois Nazis, and the entire Chicago Police Department to stop him.