Bhat: Liverpool should embrace title contenders tag

Liverpool’s superlative-laden display in the 5-0 humbling of Tottenham at White Hart Lane makes one wonder if it's more than just a season of transition for the Reds.

 Captain Luis Suarez of Liverpool
Suhas Bhat

By Suhas Bhat

Suhas Bhat

I'm not a big fan of Brendan Rodgers. In the past, I have derided, quite vociferously, the Northern Irishman because he did not always get it right. Furthermore, his oft-repeated, vaguely optimistic phrases seemed to indicate an inability to reflect on the club's shortcomings. 

However, it must be conceded that he has got it right this season as the Reds' fortunes appeared to have turned a corner. Last night's superb demolition of supposed top-four rivals Tottenham at their own ground showcased the mutli-faceted improvements in a Liverpool side that may have finally found its bearings. 

Only the 3-1 loss to Hull earlier in the season stands as a blemish on what has otherwise been an extremely impressive start - the defeat at Arsenal was not wholly unexpected - and the question begs to be asked: Are Liverpool title contenders? 

Suarez snapping it straight

With 17 goals in the league, Luis Suarez, who was captain on Sunday night, is the key man responsible for this resurgence. After the Ivanovic-bite fracas and the summer move saga, the Uruguayan has shown signs of maturity as he has rarely spoken to the media and has just focused on improving his game. 

He has delighted the Reds' faithful as he has become the top marksman in the Premier League. His dribbling, shot frequency and an energetic attitude have been reinforced with quicker reaction times that has made him the envy of managers worldwide.

For instance, the speed with which he made the decision to chip the ball over Hugo Lloris for Liverpool's fourth goal or the equally-quick rebound off Jordan Henderson's initial shot before the latter scored the second shows that Suarez has the ability to think significantly faster than those around him, a hallmark of the modern greats: Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. 

Of course, question marks remain as to the striker's temperament but the renaissance that Suarez has achieved is similar to the one experienced by Wayne Rooney after the striker cooled off in the 2010/11 campaign after angling for a move away in the previous season. Rooney produced the best season of his career that term with 27 goals and has been remarkably calm on the pitch even if the sanguinity has not always followed off it. 

Answering the squad depth conundrum

Another problem that Liverpool often had to deal with in the recent past was their perennial lack of squad depth as the absence of Suarez, Steven Gerrard or one of the central defenders would leave the side looking threadbare.

Gerrard's abilities have naturally waned as he nears the twilight stage of his career but his leadership and motivational powers were such that Liverpool would just not appear the same without their captain.

Furthermore, their defence was always a flimsy department where inconsistency had become a byword in the performances of Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger or Martin Skrtel. Glen Johnson, for his part, produced the goods down the flanks but it was a workman-like performance that neither pleased nor caused ire in its viewing. 

In Simon Mignolet, Rodgers has finally found a goalkeeper with a point to prove as he's adapted well to the heightened expectations at Anfield. Rodgers was right to ship Reina off as the Spaniard peaked early and has never been the same since the 2010/11 campaign when he conceded a paltry 14 goals over the course of the season. 

Victor Moses, Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas and Aly Cissokho are the necessary back-ups that all top sides usually possess - such individuals, some of them being full-fledged internationals, would normally be regulars in other sides and definitely can produce moments of brilliance even if they do not quite make the grade for a starting spot. 

Moreover, Jordan Henderson has finally made the attacking midfield berth his own as he effectively took over from the injured Gerrard on Sunday night. His movement and passing was impeccable and the Englishman just needs to add a touch of flair in order to really become the fulcrum for the Liverpool attack as Kenny Dalglish originally envisioned him to be.  

A winning mentality

Barring the defeat to Arsenal, Liverpool have approached most of their games with a gung-ho mentality that speaks volumes of the transformation they have undergone this season.

Partly inspired by their new-found tactical fluidity - Liverpool are equally as deadly with a lone striker or two upfront, allowing for regular changes during a game - they have begun to pressure the opponents with greater intensity than in seasons past.

Just one goal has legitimately come from a counter-attack, demonstrating that the Reds seek to primarily unsettle their opponents in their own half before netting a goal amidst the disorientation. 

Similarly, Rodgers has benefited from the form of his two strikers as they have imbued a greater self-belief in their team-mates by regularly feeding them goalscoring chances. No longer do Liverpool have to resort to the Suarez-Gerrard connection and the manner in which young Jon Flanagan bombarded forward to score the third demonstrated how goals have come from multiple sources this season. 

And the seamless manner in which fringe players have stepped in has meant that even the absence of their star players does not concern the side as greatly as it used to in the past. 

Are Liverpool title contenders? 

The answer is yes. 

Rodgers may play down the statement because of fears of complacency but his side have shown a greater willingness to win than the reigning champions or their sorry opponents at White Hart Lane on Sunday night. 

But can they be considered as one of the forerunners? 

The answer is no. They're outside contenders, at most. 

Manchester City have too strong a squad while Arsenal have more experience in maintaining a winning run (the Gunners have regularly bounced back from the abyss in the past few campaigns). Also, Liverpool still have the tendency to underestimate their opponents from the lower half of the table, although this has happened with less frequency this season. 

Chelsea probably have a manager in Jose Mourinho who is tactically superior to Rodgers and it remains a concern that the ex-Swansea boss struggles to mastermind a comeback - Liverpool have not won in matches where the opponent has struck first. 

But Liverpool are a markedly improved side and with just the right helpings of luck and some astute signings in the January transfer window - a midfielder to deputise for Lucas Leiva should be a priority - could well see the Reds stay in the running come the end of the season. 

Following Arsenal's 6-3 loss to Manchester City at the Etihad, the Merseyside club are also just two points off the pace and could even nick top spot with a win against Cardiff on Saturday. 

And should the Gunners lose their top-of-the-table clash against Mourinho's Chelsea on November 24, it would also mean that Liverpool would lead the table at Christmas, a sign generally considered as the predictor for the title's eventual destination. 

Of course, Liverpool would then face the clearest challenge to their aspirations in the Boxing Day clash against high-flying Manchester City but, for now, a little bit of daydreaming and speculation would not be out of character. 

It looks like a merry Christmas is in store for the club's fanbase for the first time in many years. 

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