The Liverpool FC began to stumble as they relinquished the Premier League lead with a 2-1 loss to Manchester City on Boxing Day. It took just a few short days for the Liverpool squad to find themselves going from first place to fourth in the standings after taking the top spot last Saturday. They face yet another difficult challenge in Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea FC on the 29th of December which could end up with Liverpool struggling to stay in sight of the pinnacle so briefly attained.
That spot atop the standings looks to be less and less likely to return to Liverpool as the Christmas schedule continues to roll on. In fact, it would require a perfect storm where they defeated Chelsea, Manchester City lost to Crystal Palace, and Arsenal lost to Newcastle. Given the way that Mourinho’s Chelsea squad defended against Arsenal in their draw just three days ago, Liverpool seems likely to be facing a challenge at least as difficult as the one Manchester City provided to their vaunted scoring attack.
Having just barely squeezed out a win against a faltering Swansea club, the Chelsea squad will almost certainly be eager to demonstrate themselves the emerging contender that many believe them to be. Even if Chelsea should stumble, along with Crystal Palace and Newcastle, Liverpool FC would only be exactly where they started before all of the games on Boxing Day. All probability suggests, however, that they will be right where they are now, entrenched at number four on the table.
Liverpool has not necessarily made any wrong moves. In truth, they have taken what appear to be reasonable and positive steps to strengthen their squad. Reaching a deal with Luis Suarez has brought a notable change in countenance to the team’s leading scorer. He looks more relaxed and comfortable than he has all season. He continues to face some public relations challenges, but the vote of confidence from his club appears to have had a positive impact on him.
The entire team shows an optimism that is infectious. Despite the fact that he is sidelined for a month, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has indicated his unshakable belief in the potential of his teammates, and promises surprises for doubters. Looking at the way that young players like Brazilian Philippe Coutinho have developed and begun to shine during the captain’s absence, it is easy to get caught up in the sentiment. It would be easier if the odds were not so strongly against the possibility, but one of the things that has American fans in particular lining up to support Liverpool is the love of the “underdog.” Given that the Liverpool ownership is tied to the Boston Red Sox and their improbable rise to win the World Series this year, the parallels fairly leap to mind.
Manager Brendan Rogers has been consistent in his message, focusing on the goal of finishing at least in the top four. His focus has been on hard work and building the players into a cohesive team. The success of that approach, up to and including the brief stay at the top of the table, continues to lend a credibility to the emotional attachment that the Liverpool fans have gotten themselves caught up in. Caught up or not, the reality of the obstacles in front of Liverpool are difficult to ignore. The Boxing Day stumble in the standings could be the start of a longer fall for the Liverpool FC, but convincing fans that this is the beginning of the end will be a tall order.
By Jim Malone