Friday 20 April 2018

Shackles are off as Reds start to believe

Southampton 0 Liverpool 3

Steven Gerrard of Liverpool scores a penalty against Southampton
Steven Gerrard of Liverpool scores a penalty against Southampton
Steven Gerrard of Liverpool celebrates scoring a penalty against Southampton
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge and Southampton's Calum Chambers
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge jumps over a tackle from Calum Chambers of Southampton
Steven Gerrard of Liverpool scores a penalty past Artur Boruc of Southampton

Chris Bascombe

IT was like a scratched old number one record, located, dusted down and placed on the turntable in an effort to rouse a few timeless memories.

A song that once soundtracked Liverpool's conquests, barely heard in the last 24 years, but unexpectedly raised to full volume in the away end of St Mary's Stadium.

"And now you're gonna believe us," they sang. "We're gonna win the league."

This was the sound of Liverpool breaking ranks and embracing the possibilities. Responses to the title question have been more guarded than the crown jewels, but the elation of a significant victory against impressive Southampton, momentarily at least, freed inhibitions.

Brendan Rodgers has not wanted to indulge title talk. Captain Steven Gerrard is biting his lip so much when asked he needs a consignment of antiseptic after each interview. They're bowing to the inevitable now.

"There's no getting away from that. We're in it," said Gerrard. "Man City and Chelsea are still favourites but they know that we are a big threat because we've got no Europe and we can be fresh every game.

"It suits us being underdogs and that we've got a lot of time to prepare all week."

Rodgers said Liverpool proved they can go the distance. "I think over the years people have expected us to tail off. Actually now I think we're getting stronger," he said. "We get better in the second half of a season. Last year we did the same. We have the belief that when we bring our game into any match, we're a real threat. When I came in here there was a huge expectancy but the players couldn't cope with it. But now we enjoy it, we relish it."

You can understand why Rodgers and Gerrard have been so circumspect previously. The last time Liverpool were here they got over-excited, nose-dived towards the finishing line prematurely, fell on their backside and took a few years to get back up.

Gerard Houllier declared his side 10 games from greatness in 2002, but Arsenal were in the process of becoming 'The Invincibles'. He never recovered from the bold but doomed prophecy. Rafa Benitez embraced title challenger status when taking on Alex Ferguson in 2009, but could never nudge ahead in final stages. He was gone a year later.

Rodgers has been on Merseyside for only 18 months and he's already completed a Phd in the club's past, not only of the victories, but those failures. He knows where the landmines are planted and is tip-toeing around avoiding unnecessary detonations.

Belief is growing because this was a prototype performance of potential champions. They rode their luck at a tough venue before asserting authority and emerging comfortable winners.

Liverpool started vibrantly, Luis Suarez's one-touch finish gave them a deserved early lead, but then, with Phillippe Coutinho gifting possession to the opponents too often, the first half became an exercise in survival.

It is to Saints' credit that – tactically and technically – this game worried Rodgers as much as a trip to The Etihad and Stamford Bridge.

Substitute Raheem Sterling was only on two minutes when he ended the contest, tapping in after more sorcery from Suarez. By the time Suarez provoked Jose Fonte to trip him to enable Gerrard to score a third from the penalty spot, Liverpool could have been five up. The title chants began.

We've digested plenty of reasons why Liverpool can't win the title. It is too soon; the squad players contribute nothing; the defence can't be trusted; Manchester City and Chelsea are better; Liverpool signed Victor Moses.

With 10 games left, it is the reasons why they can do it coming to the fore. They've outscored the rest of the Premier League; City and Chelsea have flaws of their own; no distractions; there's a fella called Suarez in their No 7 shirt.

The last time Liverpool fans sang about winning the league was five years ago when a 4-1 win at Old Trafford made it seem United would be caught.

Liverpool's next game is against the soon-to-be-deposed champions. If you hear a replay of that particular chant there, it won't just be Liverpool fans who start to believe it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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