| 12°C Dublin

Rodgers struggling to talk rampant Reds out of title race

Close

Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring Liverpool's fifth goal

Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring Liverpool's fifth goal

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge scores his teams fourth goal against Arsenal at Anfield

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge scores his teams fourth goal against Arsenal at Anfield

Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Liverpool's Kolo Toure challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

Liverpool's Kolo Toure challenges Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

/

Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring Liverpool's fifth goal

THERE was a moment an hour after the final whistle at Anfield when Brendan Rodgers resembled Per Mertesacker being confronted with another forward surge from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

He knew what was coming, he was deeply uncomfortable about it, but he was powerless to prevent it.

"Can Liverpool win the title?" he was asked. Three times in three minutes: only marginally less frequent than a Liverpool goal at the start of their Arsenal annihilation.

FORCEFUL

It has become less a question and more a weekly interrogation, Rodgers strapped to a chair in full resistance mode like Dustin Hoffman in 'Marathon Man'. All that is missing is the slap across the brow and more forceful insistence.

"No Brendan, you must confirm this team can do it. Say it. Say it right now."

We are now as preoccupied with managerial drivel about horses and jaguars than the performances themselves. Post-match hollow talk is irrelevant when the on-field display carries such gravitas.

Steven Gerrard declared this the greatest league performance of his Liverpool career, on a par with Champions League wins over Juventus and Real Madrid.

"As explosive as it gets," he said. "Definitely in the top three performances I have been involved in. I am trying to think back to a performance – especially in the first half – that I can remember in the last 15 years. We have absolutely demolished a top team from start to finish."

Gerrard is less inclined to agree that Liverpool will not win the title but, for what it is worth, Rodgers is right.

Chelsea and Manchester City are too strong for now and Anfield sobriety is desirable, even on afternoons of intoxicating brilliance.

Qualification into the Champions League, retaining Suarez and building around the youthful verve of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and the rapidly improving Jon Flanagan will do for now.

A flaw of Liverpool in the 24 years since their last league title has been the vast gulf between its self-image and the perception of everyone else.

Too often club employees have acclaimed Liverpool's magnificence in one breath while emphasising how humble they are in the next.

The fact Liverpool's stature was generally bequeathed by men who are now portraits on the stadium walls or diplomats in the Legends Suite is of little consequence.

Dozens of feeble individuals assumed greatness by simply touching the hem of titans; men not fit for the shirt or the office. Liverpool never had to say how marvellous they were in the past. They just were. Everyone else could pen the eulogies.

One league game in the club's history makes Kopites of a certain age swell with pride more than others – a 5-0 flattening of Nottingham Forest in 1988.

It was not just the inventiveness and precision of the football, but the glowing tribute afterwards of Tom Finney, declaring it the best performance he'd been privileged to witness.

This glowing testimony of an esteemed elder statesman was embraced even more than if had it been Bill Shankly himself.

What was thrilling about the obliteration of Arsenal on Saturday was it summoned memories of that Forest game 26 years ago: peerless, football perfection of the Anfield kind. It was incisive, destructive and relentless.

No sooner were spectators recovering their perspective after one dumbfounding piece of skill, they were applauding the next.

This was Arsenal being humiliated here, not some tinpot, raggle-taggle outfit.

Arsenal, top of the league and with only one defeat in 13 against Liverpool; a team capable of repeating the hammering they dished out to Liverpool at the Emirates earlier in the season in the cup next week; a team whose brand of football is admired more than any of Liverpool's rivals.

A minute before half-time, with Liverpool already 4-0 up courtesy of Martin Skrtel's double, Sterling and Sturridge, spontaneous applause broke out. The standing ovation accompanied Liverpool's players to the tunnel.

Arsenal were hit by a tornado and had nothing left but to avoid further damage from the debris.

The one consolation for Wenger was, after conceding four in 20 minutes, they only suffered the indignity of a further Sterling effort in the second half before Mikel Arteta stroked home a penalty.

Rodgers has often been accused of struggling with the Anfield contradiction of balancing grandiose expectations with expressions of what's really attainable.

CREDENTIALS

Now he is fighting a losing battle to stop others announcing Liverpool's title credentials. So be it.

Although Shankly is the Kop sage quoted more than others, it is the wise words of a former chairman, John Smith, that are too often overlooked.

"We don't talk at Liverpool. We just win," Smith once said with a nod to the annual proclamations from the club's rivals.

For too long, when a Liverpool player or manager sets a title target, there has been an uncomfortable pause and shuffling at the back of the room.

The roles were reversed on Saturday. Others – neutral observers – left Anfield suggesting the Liverpool manager was deluded if he thinks his side cannot become champions.

As a symbol of how rapidly Rodgers is shifting perceptions of his club beyond Merseyside, it does not get more telling than that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

NUMBERS GAME

50 The last time Liverpool put five past Arsenal – in April 1964 – they won the league to give Bill Shankly his first title.

52 Martin Skrtel's 52-second strike was Liverpool's fastest goal in the Premier League at home since striker Robbie Fowler against Middlesbrough in December 1996.

40 The Reds have scored 40 first-half goals in the Premier League this season – more than any other team.

2 No player has committed more errors that have led to a goal in a single Premier League match this season than Mesut Ozil, who made two howlers at Anfield.

22 Liverpool have scored 22 goals from set-pieces this season – more than any other team.

11 The number of goals Martin Skrtel had scored in 230 previous appearances for Liverpool before his two-goal salvo at Anfield.

4 Arsenal's 5-1 defeat was the fourth time they have conceded five goals in a Premier League season.

Irish Independent