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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019

Opinion: Now cast as the underdogs, Liverpool are the neutral's favourite in title run-in

The Reds exciting style of play as they take on the super rich has earned them lots of new friends.

Image: EMPICS Sport

ADORNED AS THE neutral’s favourite for the title, Brendan Rodgers’ table-topping Liverpool have arrested the attention of football connoisseurs across the globe with their erratic blend of ruthless attacking precision and, at times, hapless disregard for the basics of defending.

Such an entertaining approach has given Liverpool their best chance of being crowned champions for many years and has led to the media declaring the Anfield club to be ‘the neutral’s favourite’.

Still, with clashes against Manchester City and Chelsea to come, the leaders remain underdogs for the title despite having their fate in their own hands.

Being the neutral’s favourite suggests the unexpected resurgence of the 18-times league champions is the real story of the season. Steven Gerrard acquiring the one major club honour that has eluded him in his career would fill column inches and television minutes for almost the whole month of May.

In the five years since Liverpool’s fruitless pursuit of a Federico Macheda-inspired Manchester United ended in failure, the hometown captain’s dream of lifting the league title with his beloved club had grown more distant. At the beginning of this season, the most ardent Liverpool fan would have thought the prospect of their greatest ever performer becoming a title-winner was beyond the most active imagination.

And sport is often too pragmatic to suffer the wishes of idle dreamers.  For every scripted Brian O’Driscoll farewell, read a Victor Valdes-type abrupt ending.

While Gerrard has a few more years in his ageing legs yet, aided by a positional shift to a more conservative deep-lying midfield role, the current season may present a final opportunity for the 33-year-old to get a winner’s medal in the toughest of competitions.

Rivals Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal are certain to demonstrate their economic strength during the summer. Tottenham Hotspurs’ underperforming summer signings could yet adapt to the rigours of English football or be replaced by superior quality. And Liverpool’s Merseyside neighbours will also try to shrewdly improve their squad within their limited means.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Ham United v Liverpool - Upton Park Source: EMPICS Sport

But for now, Luis Suarez and co are blazing a trail of destruction through opposition defences. Yet, after eight straight league victories, maintaining such unblemished form until the season’s end would equal the record set by the double-winning Arsenal side of 2002. Arsene Wenger’s charges of 12 years ago won 14 consecutive matches between February and August 2002, including their last 13 games of the 2001/02 season.

Part of the allure of this Liverpool side is their sudden rise to prominence. A jump from eight and seventh positions in the past two seasons respectively to real challengers illustrates the incredible improvement under Liverpool’s talented Northern Irish manager. Rodgers’ tactical awareness and versatility has added a new dimension to a team capable of playing attractive football in a number of formations, while still getting the best out of the Sturridge and Suarez partnership.

The former Swansea manager’s devotion to his passing and high pressing philosophy mirrors the approach adopted by Jim McGuinness when he took charge of the Donegal footballers in 2010. The Glenties native inherited a disorganised group that was some distance from All-Ireland glory, but introduced a defined tactical approach and instilled a fantastic work ethic and team spirit. Two years later, Michael Murphy was singing ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ with Sam Maguire beside him in the Hogan Stand. Rodgers stands on the verge of a similarly remarkable achievement in his second season.

The Brendan Rodgers way, honed during his time at Chelsea and Swansea particularly, has found a mutually supportive environment on the red half of Merseyside with the Kop faithful showing colourful adoration for their burgeoning leader. This support is replicated in neutral eyes desperate to avoid the familiar sight of a mega-rich club claiming yet another Premier League title.

If Rodgers guides this Liverpool side to their 19th league title, with Gerrard singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Anfield’s centre circle, then surely this will be the ultimate sporting fairy tale. The Reds will have satisfied the whims of the neutral, if only for a while.

Daniel Sturridge surprises Liverpool school kids, performs ‘wriggly arm’ celebration with them

Liverpool chief confident star man Luis Suarez will stay on

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About the author:

Kealan McGuinness

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