Ste Hoare looks at Liverpool’s home form and how it can help the club achieve its ambitions during 2013/14.
Can our brilliant Anfield performances continue throughout the second half of the season?
It’s a pretty obvious thing to say but football seasons and calendar years don’t run in sync. However, as we wave goodbye to one year and welcome in another – often with a glass of something fizzy – an opportunity arises to take stock of where your team currently sits after the manic Christmas period.
For Liverpool, their current position isn’t quite as positive as it was on Christmas Day, but after playing arguably the two toughest fixtures on their schedule in just three days, followed by a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Hull City, it’s fair to say that Brendan Rodgers and his team can be happy with the start they’ve had, and that their aim of securing Champions League football is certainly a very realistic possibility.
I’m sure that had you offered most fans – and Brendan himself – fourth place and 39 points after 20 games they’d have taken it, after all Liverpool only had 28 points at the same stage last season. However, because of just how tight the Premier League table is at the moment, it’s just as easy to say Liverpool are title challengers as they are Europa League place hopefuls, so there can be no resting on laurels.
As we look ahead to the remaining 18 league games Liverpool have to play this season, the signs are actually quite encouraging. Of the other seven teams currently in the league’s top eight positions, six still need to visit Anfield, while The Reds only have to face one of these sides away from home; that being Manchester United.
Liverpool’s home form this season is very good. They’ve won 9 of their 10 home games, although in fairness these matches haven’t been against any particularly good sides, bar Southampton and Man United. Still, a successful season is usually built on a good home record and I’m sure none of the other ‘big teams’ will come to Anfield expecting an easy game, especially with the confidence of the home side soaring high, and arguably on form – the best player on the planet leading their line.
In order to really stamp their mark on this season, Liverpool will have to win the majority of these big home games. Having taken just two points from the 15 on offer from the away ties at Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Man City & Newcastle, The Reds must make up for the deficit by beating these sides at Anfield. If they can manage that, the top eight league positions will come down to whoever does the best against the other teams in the division.
Don’t go counting any chickens just yet, having to travel to the likes of Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, and West Ham United will be very tough games as those teams will likely be increasingly desperate for points in their quest to avoid relegation. However, if Liverpool do have serious ambitions of finishing in the top four or perhaps even higher, then they need to be beating these sides as in truth, there are a lot of poor sides in the Premier League this year and there are plenty of points to be had.
Brendan and his coaching staff probably haven’t got the praise that they deserve for the start Liverpool have had. Taking a team that finished seventh to the top four would be a magnificent achievement, yet it seems that if Liverpool did miss out on a Champions League place, most fans, writers and pundits would deem the season a failure. I guess that comes with the territory. When people hear the name ‘Liverpool Football Club’ they think of one of the biggest sporting institutions in the world, and it’s easy to forget that the club hasn’t finished higher than sixth place since 2009.
Liverpool have already played six of the seven toughest away games they’ll have this season, yet still sit in a healthy position. As we just get things rolling in this new year, the signs are encouraging for The Reds. Champions League qualification is still in their own hands, the question is can they keep a firm grasp on it? To do so, The Reds must once again turn their home stadium into “Fortress Anfield” and send opposition teams packing with their tails between their legs. For too long, opposition teams have come to Liverpool almost expecting to take at least a point, and hopeful that they can take all three. Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff, along with the players of course, have helped change this perception and the league’s so called ‘lesser’ clubs are coming to Anfield expecting nothing. In fact, I bet Steve Bruce is secretly pleased to have maintained some sort of dignity and preserve his side’s goal difference by losing by just two goals.
The big tests for Liverpool in their quest to rebuild this fortress like feeling at Anfield is to do to the big boys what they’ve done to league’s lower ranked sides. If they can do that then Anfield will surely be hosting Champions League football in 2014.