Liverpool FC: Could It Be?
Often the only things I'm ever right about are the most pessimistic of my predictions. Whenever I show absolutely no faith in something, I'm usually depressingly correct, but as soon as I show any signs of optimism, I'm shot down like a Mexican bandit in a Clint Eastwood movie.
But at the end of the 2007-08 season, I predicted big things for Liverpool FC. I was telling everyone who'd listen that this year things would be different.
This wasn't the usual "next year, we'll be millionaires!" blind hope that football fans tend to employ as a default; I've suffered enough with that in the past, growing up in the Premiership years watching my team lose pace on whoever was the big two at the time.
By the start of last season, I'd adapted my usual pessimistic prophecy to football, and always anticipated that, come May, we'd be at best second. Of course I hoped for the top spot—but I didn't expect us to get there.
So when I felt a surge of optimism at the end of last season, I knew instantly that it wasn't just a fan's hope. It was based on fact, scientifically determined and all about cold-hearted reason.
I saw a Liverpool team, for the first time in my memory, containing a hard-working, extremely talented man in every position. No Calamity James or Sander Westerveld, no Traore or Stingray, no Smicer or Cheyrou, and no Baros or Riedle. I looked over every position last season, and found that we had top quality throughout the squad without exception.
The purchases of Dossena, Degen, and Cavalieri answered some of my only concerns with the team, but it was the signing of Robbie Keane that gave me the biggest lift. It wasn't his goalscoring record that I was happy for—although it didn't make unhappy—it was the effect that his inclusion would have on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres that I was particularly looking forward to.
Keane has been signed to fill the role occupied by Gerrard last season, which has allowed the captain to go back to his favoured position. Contrary to popular media belief, Rafael Benitez always wanted to play Gerrard in the middle, but the lack of a top quality right-sided player, coupled with great midfield strength, led to him adapting the versatile captain to fill a troublesome gap.
There's no doubt in Rafa's mind where he prefers Gerrard to play, and where he has the most influence on games.
Keane's inclusion meant that, while some Liverpool teams in the past have relied on forming that cliche of "the central spine", we now have a team strong throughout any starting eleven.
By the start of this season, I was convinced that we had a team capable, both skillfully and mentally, to launch a long-awaited title challenge and surprise a few doubters.
We've done that with aplomb, and this latest result speaks volumes for the ability and work ethic of our whole squad.
Doubters said that without Torres Liverpool will struggle, but we've missed him for both the games against the two title favourites, and beaten them both as other players chipped in with goals. We've broken Chelsea's ridiculous home record, which is a feat in itself and will be so well received by all English teams that they should've made a trophy for it on its own.
I'm not saying we've won the league already, or that it's a certainty. There's a long way to go and all we have is a good start, nothing more. But that title challenge I predicted is well and truly on, and, for the first time in a decade, the title is ours to lose as we sit three points clear at the top of the league.
I don't care which relegation contender Harry Redknapp's gone to (a fact that the London-based media seem to deem more important than the biggest result of the season), but I do care about who finishes top, and this year, just maybe, my optimism could be rewarded for the first time.
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