A derby fixture is more than just about winning and losing. It epitomises passion, intensity, tension and all other immeasurable qualities that we generally associate while talking about the romantic side of this beautiful game.
For Liverpool this Saturday’s Merseyside derby is more than just another fixture. Liverpool have to win, even if at the expense of their trademark graceful style.
Seeds of optimism were planted after last season’s heroics, but Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers probably couldn’t have fathomed the task of rebuilding would be this difficult sans Luis Suarez.
The talks of title challenge, Champions League expectations and even top four finish were put aside; the gripping fear that haunted Liverpool fans was how would Rodgers turn the tide around.
With just one win in 9 games in autumn, four defeats in a row, it was painful to see Liverpool sinking without trace, bereft of system and style.
All hell broke lose as pessimism reached its nadir after Liverpool were battered and humiliated 3-0 at Old Trafford.
Backs to the wall and hopes gradually fading away, the real fightback began.
With just one defeat (in extra time against Chelsea) in 13 games, five wins and two draws in last seven Premier League games, Liverpool have not only arrested their decline but have given themselves a genuine chance for top four finish.
The Reds have somehow been able to dodge bullets when serious pressure were applied against them – scintillating football (4-1 win against Swansea), grinding out results (1-0 against Sunderland), comeback victories (2-1 win at Bolton) – they have seen it all.
It is precisely at this juncture, when Liverpool are high on momentum and need to push forward to edge out their rivals, they are faced with their biggest challenge of this season, one that could make or break their season.
Starting with Everton, Liverpool will face Spurs, Man City, away to Palace (new nemesis) in FA Cup and Europa League fixtures in between, all within next 20 days. No wonder why “three points” is the battle cry emanating from Red half of Merseyside.
The timing of the match can also have a psychological effect on the team. Liverpool will get to know the outcome of North London Derby by the time they warm up in the dressing room, and whatever be the result, they would have a golden chance to close the gap to either of their rivals.
But most importantly, the derby victory will re-ignite the fire that will help Liverpool in tackling other tough fixtures with renewed self-belief.
This might not be their biggest game of the season, but certainly the most crucial, one that could help in shaping their future.