By Charles Ong
Probably for the first time this season, Anfield was brimming with expectancy when Aston Villa visited. A few days before that, Rodgers ad challenged his players to aim beyond fourth, the minimum requirement to net a lucrative Champions League spot. At that moment, it looked possible; after all, less than half the season had elapsed, and as Manchester United found out last season, anything could happen within a month.
Liverpool went on to put a horror-show, with Benteke and Weinmann running circles around the Liverpool defence as they eventually wilted in a 3-1 defeat. That sense of expectancy was greeted with a shell-shocked nature; most couldn’t quite comprehend how exactly Liverpool culminated in such a manner.
The post-mortem centred on Rodgers’ pre-match talk, and after being hit by a dash of realism, Rodgers’ words seem deluded. Understandably, he was carried away and his words rubbed off a few fans, so the loss against Villa did put things in perspective on where the side really are at the current moment.
But what’s so good about football is that the matches come thick and fast. Fast forward a week from that defeat and Liverpool were at Anfield again, this time against Fulham and showing far greater tenacity and determination to get things right.
Right from the off, the pressing was more intense, the decision-making was more certain and everything just seemed to click. Liverpool have been consistently guilty of having a low chance conversion rate throughout the season, but this was a game where even that seemed to change.
What was more celebratory was the fact that Liverpool got an early goal through an unusually clean strike from Martin Skrtel which helped calm nerves in Anfield, and they were 2-0 up on the 35th minute. Both haven’t happened at Anfield for a long, long time.
At 2-0 up and with Liverpool putting up a very competent performance, the loss against Villa was almost forgotten. While it has to be said that Fulham weren’t doing themselves any favours by being sloppy at times, much of the credit has to go to the Reds, who took the game to the visitors.
The third goal was scored by Stewart Downing – yes, him (finally!) – as he received the ball on the right flank and cut in to deliver a rasping drive past Guzan. 45 league games later and he has finally got his Liverpool career off to a belated start.
Luis Suarez put the icing on the cake deep into injury time for the Reds after Jose Enrique’s scintillating run down the left flank. It summed up a memorable victory for the Reds, who recorded their biggest and arguably finest win this season.
It was an emphatic response to the unexpected events that occurred against Aston Villa, and kicked off Liverpool’s Christmas programme on a perfect note.
With games against Stoke, QPR and Sunderland over the next seven days to sum up Liverpool’s festive schedule, the table could look very different with the Reds in and around the top four when 2013 comes knocking. Knowing Liverpool full well, hopefully this isn’t written with Rodgers’ previous sense of delusion.