Liverpool on verge of return from the wilderness

In an era they dominated, the Reds were rather blasé about yet another title win 24 years ago. It was to be their last, until now perhaps, writes Tim Rich ahead of the potentially decisive Chelsea game

Kenny Dalglish always said you should remember the date – April 28, 1990. It was the day Liverpool became champions for what many feared would be the last time.

They came from behind to beat QPR 2-1 to win the title with two games to spare. Alan Hansen, who was to be handed the trophy three days later, thought the crowd applause ordinary, blasé almost. Manager Dalglish was relaxed enough to bring himself on as a sub to have one last taste of the Anfield pitch in the final game of the season as they thrashed Coventry 6-1.

It was the most routine of championships, won by nine points and the club's eleventh in 18 years. But the truth was that Liverpool were an ageing, exhausted team, still marked by Hillsborough, and with an increasingly fractious dressing room.

Fast forward to April 27, 2014 and Liverpool are a very different team, populated by young and hungry men and boys for whom a championship will never be routine. The current manager Brendan Rodgers is 41, a couple of years older than Dalglish in 1990. The crowd will be anything but blasé, queuing 10 deep along Anfield Road prior to today's game against Chelsea that could go a long way to sealing Liverpool's position as League leaders.

FOLLOW ALL THE ACTION WITH OUR LIVE BLOG HERE

"That does help," said Rodgers. "A player coming in on the opposition bus, looking at that, they are not going to be too comfortable. The game starts there on that road and it rolls into the game.

"When I came here I thought we needed to get back to owning Anfield. We needed to own the ground – our changing rooms, our grass, our supporters. And it's our ball."

In Dalglish's final season as Liverpool manager, the one that finished with two Wembley finals and the sack in 2012, Anfield was very different. Nine of the bottom 12 clubs left Anfield with at least a point. West Bromwich Albion won their first game there since 1967, Fulham triumphed for the first time.

"People were coming to Anfield and having a nice day out," said Rodgers. "They were coming too easily, enjoying it and maybe even winning. That was the key in this period of my time here; you have to make the home tie the most difficult 90 minutes of your opponent's life."

It is three months since Liverpool dropped a point at Anfield, seven since Rodgers, employing no fewer than four centre-halves in what he called "a slow, lethargic" game, lost to Southampton.

It was a mistake he did not repeat. Liverpool's game has become increasingly quick and increasingly geared to landing a rapid knockout blow. By the time 26 minutes had passed on the clock, Liverpool were two up at Norwich, two up against Manchester City and Tottenham and leading Arsenal 4-0. If Liverpool do not break Chelsea in the opening half-hour, then the huge expectations might begin to turn in on them.

Rodgers is unusual for a Premier League manager in that he lives in the city where he manages, where it is more difficult to escape the constant, almost suffocating pressure. He does not feel the need to take himself away. "I am always thinking about football," he said.

On Thursday night he took himself to St George's Hall to watch An Evening with Jamie Carragher. It wasn't quite Bill Shankly taking his wife, Nessie, to watch Rochdale Reserves but he has a lot in common with his mentor, Jose Mourinho, who observed: "I have no outside interests, no hobbies, just football and my family."

There is one other difference between Liverpool on April 28 1990 and on April 27 now. Then, Liverpool were not popular winners. An Aston Villa side led by a young, media-friendly manager in Graham Taylor had come close to the title.

In previous seasons Liverpool had seen off romantic challenges from Southampton and West Ham and were seen as an insular, arrogant club, wary of outsiders who had inflicted the Heysel ban on the rest of English football. Now, across most of the country, they are being willed to win. They will become the most left-field title winners since 1981 when Aston Villa became champions – a side that, like Liverpool in Rodgers' first campaign, had finished seventh the previous season.

For clubs like Villa and Newcastle United, Liverpool have become a template for a success that does not involve foreign billionaires with questionable credentials or moves to new, soulless arenas. In Spain, Atletico Madrid are doing much the same; breaking the old cartel.

"When I was young I gravitated towards clubs who had a top-to-tail philosophy," said Rodgers. "Make no mistake, Manchester City were nowhere until the money was put in. You need the money if you want to go from here to there very quickly.

"But in order to sustain it, you want to bring your own through and actually put a structure in place that makes it sustainable. Certainly, it's more fulfilling. When I retire from football, yes, I want to look back on some trophies but it's not the only thing. I want to look at Raheem Sterling and hear him say: 'You know, you worried about us, you gave me a chance'. That's more important to me than it might be to some other managers."

Liverpool v Chelsea is live on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 2.05pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine