27 Apr 2014

Can Liverpool end 24 years of hurt and be champions again?

Liverpool entertain Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday in a match which could see the Reds taking a giant step closer to landing the title for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho (Reuters)

Victory for Brendan Rodgers’s side would also end Jose Mourinho’s hopes of Chelsea lifting the Premier League trophy. Commentator and writer John Anderson believes it could be Liverpool’s destiny finally to end their long wait to be crowned champions.

It’s been an extraordinary season. Who would have imagined, for example, that Manchester United and Crystal Palace would go into the last weekend of April separated by just four places in the table? Mind you, back in August the idea that Liverpool would finally end the campaign as champions of England seemed equally far-fetched.

The bookies were offering cautious odds of 33-1 on them pre-season (United, incidentally, were 5-2).

Years of dominance

For those of us old enough to remember their years of dominance, it still seems a little odd to think that Liverpool have never won the title in its Premier League incarnation. Back in 1990, when Madonna was in Vogue and four of the current side were yet to be born, the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush won the First Division for the 10th time in 14 seasons and seemed to be the elders of an unshakeable dynasty.

Back in 1990, the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush won the First Division for the 10th time in 14 seasons.

Just a year previously the Hillsborough tragedy had cast its shadow over the city, indeed the entire football world. Only now, a quarter of a century later, are the families of the 96 fans who never came home from Sheffield beginning to feel that their loved ones may finally be able to rest, not just in peace but in justice.

The youngest of the victims, 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley, left behind a cousin, not quite nine, who grew up to lead the club to cathartic triumphs on the pitch and who can now offer another shaft of light amid the unbearable darkness. That lad, Steven Gerrard, summed up the character of a city which has so often had to deal with the spectre of tragedy when TV cameras captured what was meant to be a private moment.

“We go again,” he told his teammates after an 11th successive league win had been achieved at Norwich.

Fortress within a fortress

Yet now comes the most searching test of that resolve. Chelsea’s almost painfully obdurate Champions League performance at Atletico Madrid in midweek reinforced the notion that no-one can set up a team to get a result against the odds better than Jose Mourinho.

So deeply entrenched in the hosts’ goalmouth was the Chelsea team bus on Tuesday night that only now have mechanical diggers managed to extricate it. As Manchester City have already found out this season, Chelsea’s approach to matches at fortress stadiums is simply to build a fortress within a fortress.

Chelsea’s approach to matches at fortress stadiums is simply to build a fortress within a fortress.

It is an enviable quality, exceeded only by the Blues manager’s talent for waging pre-match psychological warfare on opponents. We are already being told that Chelsea are prioritising the return leg of their European semifinal ahead of the Anfield clash, amid hints that key players may be rested from a side which is already missing the frustrators-in-chief, Petr Cech and John Terry, through injury, and the suspended Ramires.

As we all know, Jose Mourinho has made a career out of trying to spook fellow managers with carefully chosen words delivered to a drooling media. Increasingly, though, these comments must be taken with an industrial skip full of sodium chloride.

His sarcastic praise of match official Mike Dean and referees assessor Mike Riley, after the shock home defeat by Sunderland, has landed a Football Association misconduct charge. But perhaps more damagingly, it has engendered the feeling that Mourinho’s antics have now gone beyond the art of deflecting blame from his players and into the realms of cowardice. It does him no credit.

Poetic against prosaic

And so, in every sense, this Premier League summit meeting pits the poetic against the prosaic, not least in the style of play the two teams are likely to adopt, with Liverpool attempting to storm the Chelsea ramparts from the word go. If the artists can overcome the artisans, Brendan Rodgers, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling can adjust their dickie bows and head south to the PFA awards dinner, confident of scooping the top individual prizes.

But the accolade they covet most is the collective honour of being crowned English champions. Victory over Chelsea would leave Liverpool requiring a further four points from games against mid-table dwellers Crystal Palace and Newcastle to fulfil their destiny.

If they succeed, the sight of Gerrard further honouring the memory of his late cousin by hoisting the one trophy to have eluded him in a glittering career would be a truly iconic image.

And I suspect many non-Liverpool fans, myself included, will be applauding with them.

Follow John Anderson on Twitter @GreatFaceRadio