By Paul Madison
Sir Alex Ferguson invented this term. Literally, it is the sound your butt makes as you anxiously watch the final stages of a competition. As the end is nearing, your club is doing well, but there is that feeling of anxiety in the back of your mind that at any moment, things can go wrong. This makes us squirm in our seats while we watch, helplessly, as our gladiators do battle on the pitch. All our hopes and dreams are in front of us, but the opposition will not go quietly in the night. So we squirm.
As we near the final stretch run in the Premier League (typically from the 30th match onwards), we enter the stage of the season where champions come to the forefront, and pretenders fade. Right now, Liverpool FC are in that place of the season (and table) where they can go either way. Currently sitting in 4th place, four points off the current leader Chelsea, they have a precarious hold on the final Champions League slot alotted to English clubs, and are in a place where if any of the clubs above them (City, Arsenal, and Chelsea) falter, they are there to pounce. Fourth is important for many reasons, most notably the amount of cold hard cash that comes along with playing in Continental play, tv rights, exposure, but mainly to have the ability to flaunt playing against the best of the best to potential transfer targets.
They have not sat this high since they finished runners up to Manchester United at the end of the 2008/09 season. The following year, they fell to 7th, the manager “parted ways” with the club and they began a slow and painful rebuild to get back to this point right now, four seasons later. This is huge for the club that sees themselves, not their fierce rival Manchester United, as the premier football club in the English game, mainly due to the fact they hold five European titles, where as Manchester United only has three. That leads back to why, for Liverpool, 4th place and a spot in Europe is vital.
On the flip side, Liverpool sits six points ahead of 5th place club Tottenham. Spurs, as they are mainly known by, spent heavily this summer with the money brought in by the sale of former star man Garreth Bale for this very moment in time. They wanted to be able to overtake the usual Big Four of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal to land that final, and lucrative, final Champions League spot. Liverpool themselves are trying to get back into that argument of being, year in and year out, in the discussion for not only Champions League play, but as title contenders for the English crown, what many ‘Pool fans see as a birth right as they only sit behind formerly mentioned rivals United’s 20 titles with 18 themselves, but due to United’s dominance, have never won a title since the formation of the Premier League from the old First Division. This is something Liverpool want to vanquish, especially since their arch nemesis, Sir Alex himself (the one who infamously stated “I want to knock Liverpool off their perch”), is no longer around to torment them.
Since their last domestic league triumph, they have seen themselves get agonizingly close, finishing 2nd twice (01/02, 08/09) and 3rd five times. They have also finished outside the top 4 nine times. This is a club that often slips in and out of the league’s elite since 1992/93, with the past four seasons being the longest stretch of seasons outside in the cold. With that kind of anxiety of being “back,” Liverpool must jubilantly look at how close to the summit they are, but also remain cautious of the club sitting within striking distance of them. Liverpool have the talent to stick around until the end. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have combined for 41 league goals already this season, and Suarez and club captain/legend Steven Gerrard are tied (with Man United’s Wayne Rooney) for the league lead in assists with 9 each. The offense is flying, and for the most part covers up for a decent, if not spectacular defense, leading to the second best +/- goal differential at +35 this season (M City leads with a +42 g/d).
Second year manager Brendan Rogers has seemingly breathed life back into a club that had become stagnant and too reliant on showing montages of their past glory, instead of playing attacking/attractive football with the elites of England and Europe. Liverpool is not afraid to try and eviscerate anyone these days, with their recent 4-1 and 5-0 wins over Arsenal and Everton proof of that, but that style can lead to a few head scratchers, such as losing to Arsenal a week later 2-1, 3-1 to Hull City back in December, and fairly recent draws with low hanging clubs Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.
With matches on the road at Manchester United (7th and struggling) in two weeks, and then statement matches vs Spurs (3/30, 5th), Manchester City (4/13, 3rd), and Chelsea (4/27). How Liverpool plays against those four clubs, and others such as Cardiff (19th), West Ham (10th) and Crystal Palace (16th), will show us if they have the mental fortitude to shake off the doldrums of mediocrity or not.
Like their partial owner LeBron James had to go through himself, Liverpool is working towards the elite class. With one eye at the top, and one eye watching their backs, Liverpool and their supporters are entering the time of season where the wins are celebrated harder, draws stop hearts, and losses are mourned, everything is more intense. Each win takes them closer to the point where they want to be, but any draw or loss will drag them back into uncertainty in the eyes of their supporters.
Liverpool fans, get your bums clean now. The edge of your seat is waiting.