Bear with me here: there are so many things to digest from this weekend that I will be struggling to keep this one short, because this was the weekend that set so many milestones in this young and budding Premier League season.
This was the weekend that saw Tottenham capitulate against City after initially appearing to be capable of holding them back; that saw Dzeko produce a center-forward’s masterclass with a majestic four-goal haul (Andy Carroll take note: this is what a target man should aspire to); that saw City turn on the style and deal a ruthless punishment on a slowing Tottenham defence (the match commentators mentioned the attacking similarities with Arsenal and how City, on this form, might already be superior to Arsenal and should be comparing themselves with Barcelona); that saw Tottenham lose so much yardage in the race between the erstwhile Big Four pretenders (what would Modric think, seeing Spurs’ much-vaunted “ambition” devored by City’s billions?).
This was the weekend that saw Arsenal get humiliated and absolutely torn apart by a relentlessly breathtaking Manchester United side; that saw Arsene’s young pretenders get completely upstaged by the new generation of Fergie’s Fledglings (I should mention that I initially strove to offer some perspective to my United-fan friends in that the injured and suspended Gunners were weaker than an Arsenal Carling Cup team, but towards the end the gulf in class was just too huge for this to uphold); that saw the pressure pile in droves on Arsene Wenger, and for the first time quite rightly so, as Sir Alex showed him exactly how to run a successful youth policy; that, finally, saw Arsenal in unprecedentedly bad need of short-term fixes if they are to avoid a depressing slide down the table this year.
But, (unbelievably,) these are merely sideshows. Back to the main topic. This was the weekend that, in my eyes, saw Liverpool establish themselves as strong, strong contenders to finish back in the Top Four.
I feel the need to embark on a mini-digression here, as the above statement is one that many of those who know me should be surprised at seeing. I am of the cautious optimism school (low expectations, low disappointments). I have been trained in these past few years to focus on effective counter-attacking football, obtaining points in unfavorable situations, and causing upsets in Europe, largely due to the influence of Senor Benitez and the successes of Mr. Mourinho, whom I publicly despise but secretly admire (perhaps envy would be a better word choice here). So I am somewhat breaking one of my own rules here.
I say that we are strong Top Four candidates, because Tottenham and Arsenal are on alarming form as addressed above, yes, but also because we were very, very good against a Bolton side that pushed City all the way just a week ago. Yes, City played at the Reebok Stadium last week and we were at Anfield this week, and yes, Samir Nasri was still playing for Arsenal last weekend, but to some extent the comparisons still hold. But enough (finally) about what our competitors and opponents can or cannot do.
We played Bolton off the park, simple as. This was possession play, pass-and-move, never-ending attacking philosophy, constant closing down, all at their highest levels: in other words, Sunderland first half, extended to a full 90 minutes.
Never had I heard so much applause in a Liverpool match. And not only applause and cheering for goals (because the 8-0 trouncing of Besiktas will take some beating), but also for general movement and play. The players enjoyed themselves on the pitch; that much was apparent. Kenny enjoyed himself on the sidelines. These translated to us fans enjoying ourselves on the terraces (and for those of us on the other side of the world, in front of the TV). The last time I saw an unrelenting Liverpool side as attractive and exciting as this, we finished second as we blitzed past our unfortunate opponents towards the end of the 08-09 season.
Back then, we had our Gerrard-Torres axis in top, exhilarating form. Neither of them played on Saturday, for contrasting reasons, but we didn’t need them. Adam, Downing, Henderson, Kuyt, Suarez: they interchanged positions a la the famous Revolving Doors tactic, and Bolton had no answer to this unpredictable movement. The aforementioned former three played their best games for the club so far. Adam with some exquisite Alonso-esque long balls, picture-perfect set piece delivery (how unstoppable was that corner to Skrtel?), and a first goal to round it all off (on his right, too!). Downing in his best position down the left, hugging the touchline, getting into the box with great timing (how unlucky not to have scored off Suarez’s jaw-dropping outside-of-the-boot cross), and fizzing in crosses that Carroll needs to learn how to put away. Henderson playing his heart out, producing defence-splitting passes time and time again, producing great crosses and a great finish, thereby forcing me to temporarily take back my criticisms of his anonymity during our first two games.
And what about Lucas’s constant haggling and perfectly timed tackles? Enrique’s fantastic wing play and solid defence? Skrtel shining in an unfamiliar right back role? And do I need to mention El Sua’s constant threat everywhere on the pitch? The only downsides in the game: the referee (honestly, I could spot that back pass from 8,000 miles away), Suarez’s zero-goal haul, Kelly’s hamstring, and Carra’s late travesty.
But there were far more positives than negatives. With North London’s surrender against Manchester this weekend, this now puts a “favorites” tag on Liverpool in the race to finish in the Champions League places. Having set such a high benchmark this weekend, we now have it all to do to maintain this form over the course of a season. I daresay we have the strength in depth and the correct philosophy to give it a damn good go.
Stoke will be a good test of our credentials. But now we have to wait almost two weeks for more of the same (hopefully). Excruciating.