Realism vs. Optimism: Should Liverpool Be Considered Title Challengers?

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26:  Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers issues instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 26, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Another international break arrives just as your team is gathering some momentum, but it does allow managers some time to assess how their squads are performing.

Eleven games into the season, the Premier League table usually has a familiar look to it—not so much this season.

It was hypothesised over the summer that this might be one of the most open and close seasons, and it's certainly proving that way.

More than anything, there has never been a better opportunity for Liverpool—or, indeed, anybody else—to break into the "top four" and earn the coveted Champions League spot.

Clearly, Liverpool's aim this season is to finish in the top four, no matter where, no matter how. It's essential for the short- and long-term future of the football club; the repercussions are huge.

Should Brendan Rodgers' side win their next fixture—the small matter of a Merseyside derby—they will be top of the league, albeit perhaps only temporarily.

There will never be a better opportunity for LFC to break into the top 4. Crazy season

— keith costigan (@KeithCostigan) November 10, 2013

 

Top-Four Monopoly 

Admittedly, whenever I hear people mention Liverpool as "title contenders," I cringe. It's not a realistic aim. When was the last time a team who finished outside of the top four the previous season went on to win the Premier League?

The answer—never.

In fact, simply breaking into the top four itself has only been done rarely and cyclically. Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have been mainstays over the past decade, with Manchester City effectively replacing Liverpool.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16:   (THE SUN OUT) (SALES OUT)  In this handout image supplied by Liverpool Football Club, (L-R) Thomas Werner, Joe Januszewski and John W Henry look at the Champions League Trophy at the Liverpool F.C. Museum on October 16,
Liverpool FC/Getty Images

City achieved this by throwing the best part of a billion pounds at their "project," while Liverpool imploded during the Tom Hicks and George Gillett era.

The changes made at City, Chelsea and United this summer, allied with Liverpool having some rare stability and a vastly overhauled squad, mean this is the best opportunity they will get to regain a place among Europe's elite.

 

Title Challenge vs. Top-Four Focus

A non-Liverpool-supporting friend asked me on Sunday if this was a rare occasion I wanted Manchester United to win. They had assumed that a United win would be good for Liverpool, as it would mean Arsenal wouldn't extend their lead at the top.

To think as such, though, is in all reality romantic, misguided football-supporter optimism!

Liverpool should focus on fourth—and thus a draw or win for Arsenal would in fact have been more beneficial. The goal should be to create a gap between Liverpool and the other teams challenging for a top-four finish.

Alas, United picked up the points and are within three points of Liverpool at a very congested top of the table.

Just four points separate Liverpool in second and Manchester City in eighth. You couldn't rule any of those eight sides out of the running for a top-four place.

Perhaps Everton and Southampton will fade as the season progresses through winter, and Tottenham's lack of goals may ultimately prove their stumbling block, leaving Liverpool and the usual top four.

If indeed Liverpool do achieve their aim, the team who misses out will face a similarly huge challenge to retain their spot.

 

Goal-Setting

MILAN, ITALY - UNDATED:   Steve Peters of Team Sky poses for a portrait session ahead of the 2012 road season at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Liverpool have acclaimed sports psychologist Dr. Steve Peters assisting their squad and a manager in Brendan Rodgers who knows the benefits of a long-term plan.

Both will know the "S.M.A.R.T" criteria for goal-setting in sports psychology. The "R" stands for "Realistic" and denotes the following, as explained by sport and exercise scientist David Harrison; "Goals should be difficult enough to challenge but not so difficult they become unrealistic. This provides you with a challenge."

A top-four finish meets this criteria perfectly; it will certainly be a challenge, but just as importantly, it's realistic.

Liverpool shouldn't get ahead of themselves discussing anything other.