Reds the real deal
Our Sam Pollock believes Liverpool can pip Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal to the Premier League title.
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Little horse, dark horse, jaguar or foal? The Premier League title race has taken a rather bizarre twist this year with managers continuing to compare the leading pack to an animal kingdom, full of horses that would appear to have a passion for playing football.
Liverpool, the chihuahua of the group, have emerged as genuine title contenders in recent weeks and the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal at Anfield, who were league leaders at the time, sent shockwaves through the league. The Reds mean business.
Arguably their biggest result of the season came at Craven Cottage just days later, as Brendan Rodgers' side came from behind to beat struggling Fulham. Steven Gerrard scored a stoppage time penalty to move the Reds within four points of the Premier League summit and prompted cause for optimism within their ranks.
Manager Brendan Rodgers described his side as "the chihuahuas that run in between the horses' legs" in response to Jose Mourinho's comments last week when he labelled Chelsea the "little horse" of the title race, and Manchester City a "jaguar". All very strange.
So can Liverpool really win the Premier League title which has eluded them for 24 years?
In one word, yes. Liverpool are unbeaten in seven league games since back-to-back losses against Manchester City and Chelsea, winning five in that time and are within touching distance of the top. They also boast the second best goals tally in the league, mainly thanks to dynamic duo Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
The pair have bagged an incredible 42 goals between them in all competitions this season, which has fired the Reds eleven points clear of fierce rivals Manchester United. Now who would've thought that at the start of the season? Certainly not me.
Having missed the first five games for the Reds, Suarez is currently the top scorer in the Premier League with a staggering 23 goals, seven ahead of second placed Sturridge on 16. If these two continue their rich vein of form then it will go a long way to help the Anfield side reach top spot.
Liverpool also have the advantage of having to play all of the top sides at home before the end of the season. Both Chelsea and Manchester City face a trip to Merseyside in April, as do Tottenham at the end of March.
The Reds have a near perfect record at Anfield, having only lost to Southampton back in September. I think it's fair to say we can put that down as a bad day at the office. That aside, the Reds have won eleven, drawn one and with a goal difference of 29, scoring 38 and conceding just nine, Liverpool are not to be taken lightly at home.
When questioned on Liverpool's title credentials, Jose Mourinho continued the animal imagery to explain the Reds advantage of not playing in the Champions League this season, saying: "If Brendan has a chihuahua it is one that trains a lot and rests a lot.
"During the week it sleeps, eats and trains a little bit. So I have to say his chihuahua is a privileged one.
"The other dogs (Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City), they don't train a lot because they play a lot and they don't rest because they play every three days."
It makes you wonder if they're even talking about football anymore.
Playing in a team full of confidence, this season's proving to be somewhat of a breakthrough period for the English contingent in the Reds squad. Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and John Flanagan have all excelled in the first team and left fans calling for Roy Hodgson to consider them for a place in his World Cup squad.
With an international friendly against Denmark in the near future, don't be surprised to see a strong number of Liverpool representatives making an appearance at Wembley on March 5.
It goes to show just how far the Reds have come in such a short space of time. This time last season, Liverpool were dwindling down in ninth position with only 36 points. The Reds could only manage nine wins, nine draws and a goal difference of just ten at the same stage 12 months ago.
In a much maligned back four, Flanagan has been the one who's stepped up and filled the void at both left back and right back. The 21-year-old scored his first Premier League goal in the 5-0 away win at White Hart Lane against Tottenham in December and has even caught the eye of Brazilian legend Cafu, who tweeted his admiration of the Reds full-back. High praise it has to be said.
However what will be concerning the Reds boss is their defensive mishaps. Injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique and Lucas Leiva have left Liverpool threadbare at the back. Recent howlers from Kolo Toure against West Brom, which gifted a goal to Victor Anichebe, and a rather embarrassing own goal against Fulham, has highlighted the need for a quick turnaround on the treatment table.
Rodgers publically missed out on attacking duo Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka in the January transfer window, even though some fans were quick to point of the need for defensive reinforcements.
"Last weekend's FA Cup exit to Arsenal may have been a hard pill to swallow but it was the Reds second defeat at the Emirates this season. The performance certainly showed they are equal to their top-flight opposition and they will no doubt feel somewhat aggrieved by the scoreline."
The Reds have only managed seven clean sheets in 26 games in the Premier League this season, which is their only blemish in what has been a fantastic season.
Most of these poor performances have come on the road. The Reds were unlucky not to have come away with anything from games at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge during the Christmas period but what will be alarming was the 3-1 loss at the KC Stadium against Hull City.
Points were also dropped against West Bromwich Albion, but didn't Chelsea slip up there too?
Last weekend's FA Cup exit to Arsenal may have been a hard pill to swallow but it was the Reds second defeat at the Emirates this season. The performance certainly showed they are equal to their top-flight opposition and they will no doubt feel somewhat aggrieved by the scoreline.
Howard Webb controversially denied Liverpool a second penalty when Luis Suarez was sent tumbling inside the area by Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the referee who will go to the World Cup this summer as England's top official, decided the challenge was fair. Quite staggering I think you'll agree.
So with the Reds now focused solely on the Premier League, Swansea will be the next team to face the stern test of playing at Anfield on Sunday. With Liverpool looking to extend their unbeaten Premier League run to eight games and keep the pressure on the top three, Gary Monk's side could be looking at damage limitation if Suarez and Sturridge are on top form.