Mamadou Sakho has already claimed that Liverpool face their biggest league match in 24 years—his entire lifetime—against Manchester City on Sunday (Liverpool Echo), but the French defender may be being uncharacteristically understated.
There won’t be a trophy available to pick up at the end of the 90 minutes at Anfield, and whichever one of the two sides that wins, if any, still faces tough tasks ahead—Liverpool most notably at home to Chelsea, City at Everton—but what is up for grabs is favouritism in the title race in mid-April, something that Liverpool have craved for almost two-and-a-half decades.
The fact that the Reds are here, top of the table and five wins away from becoming champions is, of course, remarkable and bordering on the ridiculous, but they've shown that they can do the ridiculous before.
It was around about February and the hugely different wins over Arsenal and Fulham within four days of each other—one emphatic, the other dramatic—that the groundswell of support and belief in a title charge started to gather momentum amongst Liverpool fans.
Suddenly the believers were outweighing the nay-sayers, fixture lists were being scoured and hopeful shouts of “it’s on” were getting louder and louder.
These are a set of supporters who have had to get used to seeing their team be Premier League also-rans over the last few years, but crucially they are also the “Istanbul generation.” They know triumph against the odds when they see it.
That is exactly what this would be for Liverpool.
If you’d have asked anyone at the start of the season what the likelihood was that the Reds would win the Premier League title then you’d have got laughed out of the room.
But if you’d have said that Rafael Benitez’s team were going to win the 2004/05 Champions League when the tournament started, when Liverpool were struggling in the group stages, when they faced Juventus and then Chelsea or when AC Milan left the pitch at half-time in the final, then you’d have got the same response. This set of fans know about upsetting the odds.
But this game is even bigger than Istanbul was for Liverpool, and bigger than plenty of other matches which have gone before and since.
There’s actually an argument that Liverpool’s second Champions League final inside three years—the 2007 meeting with Milan in Athens—was also bigger than that Istanbul game given that it offered the Reds a chance to set a real European legacy, but this clash now trumps even that.
Because even in Athens there was a sense that this was a Liverpool side simply enjoying the moment, led forward on the crest of a wave that seemed destined to go back out to sea at any time. The presence of Tom Hicks and George Gillett in the director’s box hardly helped matters.
Now though, partly down to the uncertainties surrounding other clubs in the Premier League, Liverpool might well have a chance to rediscover their glory days, to get back to the summit, the mythical “perch” that Sir Alex Ferguson was so fond of knocking them off.
Win against City and Chelsea and beat both to the league title, and it would match anything that the club have ever achieved. If only things were as simple as that though.
City have been superb this season, scoring goals for fun and routinely bullying teams into submission. They may have scored six less goals than the Reds, but they have played two games fewer.
They pose a threat perhaps even greater than that Milan side did to those Liverpool underdogs in 2005, but then this Reds side is far better equipped to inflict damage on their opposition.
Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard. All are in a flying, confident mood and all can hurt a City defence which has well-known weak spots.
The Liverpool defence does too, of course, and that’s what will make Sunday such a fascinating spectacle.
Sakho’s correct when he says it’s the biggest Liverpool league match of his lifetime, but he can take the word “league” out of that statement.
It doesn't need to be there, and there are plenty of people far older than the French centre-back who’d agree with that.
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