Liverpool Premier League title bid: Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson are free of the weight of history - and ready to make their own

Brendan Rodgers left Sterling out for two games but brought him back to great effect against Tottenham

For most of the young men who play in Liverpool’s current side at the top of the Premier League table, there are no memories of the club’s title near misses in the modern age. What they know is if they are able to break this 24-year run, they will make themselves the most popular team at the club since they paraded the league championship at Anfield as a matter of course.

In the previous two seasons that Liverpool have finished second in the league, they did not throw the title away so much as have it taken out of sight by rival sides with an ability to win matches remorselessly in the closing stages.

In 2009 Liverpool lost out by four points to Manchester United having beaten their old enemy in that famous 4-1 victory at Old Trafford in March. United lost to Fulham the following Saturday and then proceeded to be unbeaten for their remaining nine games, winning all but one.

In 2002, with Gérard Houllier returning to the dugout following heart surgery in time for the Champions League quarter-final against Bayer Leverkusen and predicting that his side were “10 games from greatness”, Liverpool won four of their last five league games. With them eliminated from the Champions League by Leverkusen – “10 games from greatness” became seven – it was what went on elsewhere that was decisive in the league.

The problem that season was Houllier’s side was up against the pitiless Arsenal team who would develop into the great “Invincibles” one year later. From February 2002 to the end of the season Arsenal won their last 13 league games and finished seven points ahead of Liverpool in second place.

Brendan Rodgers left Sterling out for two games but brought him back to great effect against Tottenham Brendan Rodgers left Sterling out for two games but brought him back to great effect against Tottenham (Getty)

The difference this time is that this Liverpool team can control the destiny of the title race in critical home games against the two other leading contenders, Manchester City and Chelsea. It may also help that the years have rolled by and the younger generation seem less inhibited by history. Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, all starters in the 4-0 win over  Tottenham on Sunday, were not born when Liverpool were last crowned league champions in May 1990.

One does not get the impression that Sterling spends too much of his time worrying about a barren run that pre-dated his birth by four years and that may be no bad thing as the anxiety levels rise over the last few weeks of the season.

“As the season has been going on, we have had a bit more belief,” Sterling said. “But we won’t get ahead of ourselves. We have got to take it game by game. We are on the run-in now, into the last six games, but there is a really good atmosphere around the training camp. My work rate and confidence have improved, the working and pressing you have to do for the team. I just want to get on the front foot for the team. I also now have the confidence to go and play as I have got players like Luis Suarez and Stevie Gerrard giving me encouragement.”

Sterling was left out by Brendan Rodgers for the wins over Cardiff City and Sunderland, and returned to the team against Spurs to instant effect. He was watched by Roy Hodgson’s assistant Ray Lewington on Sunday, although the debate as to whether the 19-year-old from Wembley will go to the World Cup finals has largely disappeared. He is now almost certain for Brazil and could well start games.

 

His progress this season has been symbolic of that made by Rodgers’ side, who have come to the boil with six games to play and as one of just two teams with the fate of the title in their own hands.

“It is disappointing when you sit on the bench for two games but I knew I just had to be ready as I couldn’t be on flat heels if I got called up again,” Sterling said. “I got out there against Tottenham and it was just great that the manager had the confidence and belief to put me in for such a big game. I’m just delighted that we got the win to go with it. It was great to have the fans behind us and the manager said they were our 12th man. The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing.

“I hope he [Lewington] will have seen that I worked really hard for the team and it wasn’t just about going forward. I was always looking to track my man back. I was just happy to be on the winning team. It’s great to have a manager that has belief in you. For a young player, that’s all you cry out for. I’m grateful that he has so much belief in me.”

Liverpool have three seasons, including this one, to win the title to make sure they do not exceed the 26 years from 1967 to 1993 it took Manchester United to win their eighth title. Even so, the evidence is that it is less of a concern for their bright young players who, unlike their predecessors, have a strong element of control over the run-in and less reason to worry about what happened in the past.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships