I am actually starting to get worried, not for the result at Old Trafford, but the potential repercussions of whatever transpires out of that game. The past weekend’s English Premier League results has certainly proven a few points, some of which I hoped I would not have to admit. But what I hope is that the pressure does not get to the players in trying to grab a Champions League qualification place.
Firstly, Liverpool will not win the league.
It’s Chelsea’s to lose essentially, after their thrashing of Tottenham Hotspurs at Stamford Bridge. One has to only look at their remaining games to try to find any game in which they might slip up, and to be honest, I could only find two, as hard as I tried. The first is the visit of fellow title contenders Arsenal to Stamford Bridge. Looking at Jose Mourinho’s record at home in both spells as Chelsea coach, even into this current campaign, the Portuguese will definitely find a tactic to either outwit Arsene Wenger or simply not to lose. The other game which Chelsea might slip up is away at the Liberty Stadium, but even then Mourinho’s vast experience in relation to Garry Monk’s would certainly point to another three points. There’s also the visit to Anfield, but by then the league might have been wrapped up for the Blues already.
Secondly, Manchester United look to have come into some form.
The combination play for Danny Welbeck’s goal, United’s third, against a West Bromwich Albion side that managed draws recently against Liverpool and Chelsea, did look quality and shows the United frontline are still a threat. Robin van Persie might be having somewhat of a downer lately, but he will surely be fired up against Liverpool this coming Sunday. Similarly, the rest of the United team will not want to allow their Merseyside rivals to do the double over them this season. David Moyes will not want a second defeat against his perennial rivals.
Worryingly too – ironically – this is the first time in recent times that Liverpool go into a game against United as favourites, even at Old Trafford. The form book heavily points in favour of Luis Suarez and co., and however much I would like him and Daniel Sturridge to tear the United defence in front of their own fans, there’s still that concern that the pressure of being favourites and somewhat being in a title race for the first time in five years could get to them, which brings me to my next point.
Thirdly, no talk of the title, please.
With the squads of Chelsea and Manchester City, to a lesser extent Arsenal, containing so much more depth than the current Liverpool side, though Lucas Leiva and Mamadou Sakho have returned to the first team, the Reds have to concentrate only on making the top 4. Nothing more, nothing less. This sort of pressure got to the Reds sides of the past, and Brendan Rodgers can ill-afford that right now.
With Spurs, the current closest of the challengers to the top 4, 6 points behind having played a game more, Liverpool have, regardless of how little, a buffer in the race for Champions League spots. This should help ease the pressure off the players for the still titanic clash on the weekend. Yes, I reiterate again, I do want Liverpool to do the double over United even if its another gusty, slim victory, and similarly a point would be a really good result as well. But a defeat is not, and should not be seen or felt as the end of the world.
Why the ‘pessimism’?
At the worse, it only gives Moyes some confidence, which would probably be blown away come midweek when Olympiakos come to Old Trafford defending a 2-0 first-leg lead, and close the gap on the Reds and the top 4. Still, United would be behind Spurs and potentially Everton. But the Reds cannot slip away and throw away the momentum gained so far this season, should they see defeat against the old enemy. The main reason for this is because they need to get back to winning ways immediately at Cardiff and against Sunderland the following midweek to set up a potentially top 4-deciding clash against Spurs at Anfield at the end of the month. This game against Tim Sherwood’s Spurs will, in all honesty, set the tone for the rest of the season and ultimately decide on the Reds’ top 4 prospects.