Nine short words from Sky Sports’ Gary Neville to strike both fear and delight into the hearts of Liverpool fans: “I don’t think they can lose it from here”.
After a dramatic weekend of Premier League action, headlined on Saturday night by the European champions’ last-gasp victory over Leicester but overtaken on Sunday by Manchester City’s shock defeat at home to Wolves, Liverpool enter the international break not only as league leaders but also as favourites to finish the season as champions of England – a status which has eluded Anfield for thirty long years.
It is a pressurised position of prominence which at once is both the stuff of dreams for Liverpool fans but also a potential living nightmare for seven more anxious months.
Neville may have only been half-serious in his assertion that Liverpool can’t lose the title from here. The reality is that they can – and if they do, they might never live it down.
“Liverpool are definitely big favourites, but if Van Dijk gets injured, or Salah gets injured it can change,” said Neville. “There’s thirty games to go.”
“My education in football is take nothing for granted,” concurred fellow Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness. “Liverpool just have to keep their nerve.”
And, unlike City, rocked by costly injuries to Aymeric Laporte and John Stones in the wake of Vincent Kompany’s summer departure, keep their star men fit.
“It’s been the perfect weekend, it doesn’t get any better if you’re a Liverpool fan,” summarised Jamie Redknapp. “It’s Liverpool’s to lose. They’ve just got to keep their heads.
“They’ve been through this before with Brendan Rodgers and last year believing it’d be their year. 30 years is a long time. I think if they keep their heads, keep Van Dijk, keep Mo Salah fit – I do believe it’s Liverpool’s year.”
Except that Liverpool’s year can still only be next year, or next May to be precise, and the still-long road to their first league title since 1990 remains littered with potential pitfalls, starting with a trip to Manchester United on Sunday October 20, live on Sky Sports, when the league season resumes in two weeks’ time.
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“As much as United are in a difficult moment, it’s one of their toughest games,” said Neville. “Then Liverpool face City in a few weeks as well. Liverpool have games coming up that they could drop points in – they might not.”
City have pressure of their own to contend with. The shock loss to a Wolves side which start the weekend in the relegation zone underlined the scale of their defensive problems and occurred just three weeks after an equally-unexpected loss at second-from-bottom Norwich City. If Liverpool don’t know whether to celebrate or fret, City only have problems to worry over with few obvious solutions available before the transfer window re-opens in January.
“City are not right,” starkly concluded Neville on a grim day for both the red and blue sides of Manchester. “They’ve set such a high standard and the back four is not right. They’re conceding chances and they just didn’t concede chances last year. They’re not like they were.
“They set such a high standard and Liverpool matched that standard last year, barring a hair’s width, if City drop below that. Not replacing Kompany and the injury to Laporte is a big problem for them. They look vulnerable. They haven’t shown vulnerability for a few years and people will believe they are.”