As a football fan, as opposed to a Man Utd fan, I have to confess to feeling some sympathy for the Liverpool faithful right now. As loyal, knowledgeable, good humoured and expectant a group of fans as you are likely to find, how many more kicks in the gut can they be expected to endure before things get better at Anfield?
At the start of the season if they had gazed into their collective crystal ball and foreseen a headline proclaiming this weekend’s showdown with Chelsea as a ‘title decider’ it would have been everything they dreamt of…..the implication being that Liverpool also had a stake in the (title) outcome.
But the reality, as we now know, pitches them as mere bit part players in the outcome, with one possible scenario being their worst nightmare.
And who would have foreseen the season that has unfolded for The Reds? Not many I’d suggest, even allowing for the most pessimistic forecasters out there. Last season ended in bitter disappointment. Having been in the box seat for much of the first half of the campaign, they ultimately had to endure the sight of their greatest rivals being crowned champions, yet again, equalling their long held record of 18 titles. But the nature of their season (their best in the PL era) held the silver lining of increased hope and anticipation of finally breaking their PL duck.
No need to rake over old ground. The American owners, Rafa, the squad, money spent (badly), money not spent (or not available), injuries (Torres in particular), Gerrard’s form and body language…….it’s all been done to death. Suffice to say that it has inflicted some raw wounds and provoked much soul searching amongst the Kopites!
And as their season, which might have realised the small resuscitation of silverware in the form of a Europa Cup win, came to a shuddering halt last night, I’d excuse any of them for wanting to curl up in the foetal position for a couple of days and hope that when they woke up it had all just been a terrible nightmare (been there!).
So just where does all of that leave us as Liverpool face Chelsea this Sunday in what, for me at least, will be THE defining game in this bizarre title race that has seen more twists and turns than a cut snake?
And make no mistake; this is THE defining game in this title race. A risky statement given all that has gone before? I don’t think so, and here’s why.
Whoever leads the race going into the last day will be crowned champions…..no question. There is absolutely no chance….and I mean no chance….that either Chelsea or Utd will fail to put away Wigan or Stoke, respectively, if that’s all that is needed to lift the crown. Neither Wigan nor Stoke have anything to play for and at the best of times both would be regarded as huge underdogs when playing away to their respective opponents (not to mention that Utd beat Wigan 5-0 and Chelsea beat Stoke 7-0 in the reverse fixtures this season!). With the title (still) at stake on the last day, you can confidently go out for a game of golf and ignore the media hype with my full assurance that nothing will change.
Which brings me back to Anfield at 1:30pm (UK time) this Sunday. There are many factors in play and how they play out will determine this year’s champions.
– Can Liverpool lift themselves after the disappointment of their Europa Cup exit, especially having had to endure extra time…..less than 3 days beforehand?
-What team will Rafa play? Does he go with his ‘best 11’ as the faint hope of achieving 4th place still lingers…..and how might Saturday’s results affect that decision?
-How will the psychology play out for Liverpool’s players (and fans) knowing that if they take something off Chelsea they may just hand the title to Utd, and in a single stroke open the door for them to achieve the joint records of 4 titles in a row and 19 overall, moving ahead of Liverpool for the first time?
-Will nerves get to Chelsea, not for the first time this season…. and the fear of being labelled ‘bottlers’?
-Can Chelsea banish their poor away form of late when it most matters?
-Will Terry play (yes) and how will he perform…or should he even be left out?
The media hype has gone on all week and will continue right up to kick-off. Mind games and sub plots abound, but don’t expect an exciting game….there’s too much at stake….and be assured that no matter what unfolds, every party with a vested interest will endlessly rake over the controversial incidents with fully blinkered gusto in the aftermath!
But here’s my view on some of the key issues (for what it’s worth).
Rafa will play whatever team he sees fit and nobody will be justified in questioning that decision. It’s his call and every other team involved in the outcome has huge precedence in that respect. And whoever he picks will do a professional job. I don’t believe that any team ever goes onto the park to under-perform and I don’t believe that it will happen on Sunday.
That said, it’s a big ask for Liverpool players to lift themselves in the circumstances, but stranger things have happened and pride, never mind the possibility of 4th, may just provide sufficient motivation. But there’s no chance, in my view anyway, that Liverpool will ‘lie down’. They have precedence on this…..1995 v Blackburn, on the final day, when Liverpool did Utd a huge favour but Utd failed to win at West Ham and take advantage.
Title decider this may be, but as any pro knows, no title is determined by the outcome of a single game in 38. It may seem that way at the death but it’s far from reality.
Motivation should not be an issue for Chelsea….but nerves might be. Time will tell. And what are the odds on a single controversial decision deciding the game? A penalty given, or not….an offside decision wrongly given (or missed)……a sending-off……
It’s impossible to call! As a Utd fan I take some solace in the fact that, despite Liverpool’s miserable season, they have still only lost 2 of 18 PL games at home. Hell they even won last night in ‘losing’ to Atletico!
Twist my arm though….offer me a free bet of some magnitude….or a date with one of the regaled Soccerlens Babes….and I’m guaranteed to spill every time. I’d have to go with Chelsea. There’s too much in their favour and…by contrast…too much against Liverpool…..but it’s a funny old game football!
So if my prediction comes true and Chelsea walk-off the pitch victorious at Anfield, somewhere in the vicinity of 3:25pm next Sunday, I’ll offer them my congratulations on winning the title for a 3rd time in the PL era….and move my thoughts on to the World Cup and next season.
It’s a done deal if Chelsea win!
But if they slip-up, or should I say if my Liverpool ‘comrades’ refuse to lay down their pride, then I’ll rejoice at the prospect of Utd breaking records and go as far as to declare that the title is theirs….even before a ball is kicked at The Stadium of Light!
Yes, Sunderland are a formidable team at home. Yes, their home record equals Liverpool with just 2 defeats in 18 games. Given the timing of these two matches, the psychology that the first result will infuse into the 2nd game is huge. If Chelsea win at Liverpool the psychological effect on the Utd players will be immense. No matter what Fergie tells them in the dressing room I suspect that they will know (as I do) that the game is up…..the consequence being that they will under-perform and could well hand Chelsea the title before the clock strikes 6pm.
But if Chelsea don’t win at Anfield then the motivation that will provide to the Utd players should carry them over the line with room to spare. How many reprieves can any team get in a single season? Utd will be juiced-up and ready to go.
I expect Chelsea to win on Sunday and with that to lift the title, leaving me with the hollow victory of having tipped them at the start of the season.
If by chance they falter, I expect Utd to be champions by tea time, not withstanding the Sky hyped charade of the final day.
Whatever the outcome, by 6pm this Sunday the title will be decided…no question…..and remember that you heard it first on Soccerlens!