Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has been quick to stress that this will not turn into the “Mario Balotelli show”, but it’s hard to argue that the focus — both on their own website and in the wider media — hasn’t centered around the controversial Italian since his arrival from AC Milan last week.
With the Northern Irishman hinting heavily that Super Mario could make his debut when the Reds travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday, the circus isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. The 24-year old generates headlines no matter what he does and even if he only makes a cameo appearance for the Anfield outfit, there’s little doubt that the bulk of the media attention will center around him and his first outing in the famous red shirt.
It’s a bit early in the season to be discussing potential title deciders, but when the points are tallied up in May, it’s the meetings with the likes of Manchester City that can have a real impact on where you end up in the race for the title.
While finishing top spot may not be our prime objective for the season, it certainly remains in the back of everyone’s mind following Liverpool’s miraculous run to the summit last year; that’s a conversation for another time though. No one has ever won the title after only two matches and as much as the hype machine would like to convince you that the Premier League crown could very well hang in the balance, Monday’s meeting isn’t quite that important quite yet.
Despite the heroics of last season still living quite vividly in the memory, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was quick to brush aside any talk of title aspirations in his first pre-match press conference of the Premier League season.
“Our aim is to be competitive. Like the top teams, we want to win a trophy. That would be an aim. In the league, it’s about sustaining Champions League football” he said ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Southampton at Anfield. “For that you want to arrive in fourth. Once you have consolidated that, you can look beyond that. That’s certainly our aim this season.” There’s a long way to go, but the route always seems a bit shorter if you get off to a flier and tomorrow that’s exactly what Rodgers — and his host of ex-Southampton players — will be looking to do as they try to avoid making things awkward at Anfield.
And, just like that, the title race goes to the final day. While it’s been 24-years since Liverpool last ended the season on top of the pile, Manchester City celebrated their first Premier League title only two seasons ago with a last gasp victory in the dying moments of the campaign; despite millions upon millions of pounds being invested into that side, some things haven’t changed.
It’s hard to even discuss Newcastle United right now. Although it’s absolutely imperative that we take all three points from Alan Pardew’s side on Sunday, it feels like something close to an after-thought to run through the mechanics of a match preview. At this late juncture, this is a win or it’s all gone scenario — does it really matter who Brendan Rodgers puts out on the field?
One game at a time, three more times; we’ve won nothing yet, but we’re so agonizingly close. After spending the vast majority of our season playing down our chances of winning the title, it’s hard to fathom us not claiming our first title in 24-years — and that’s the scary part.
The football Gods build you up just as easy as they knock you down and it could very well be Chelsea that send us sprawling on Sunday. Forget the talk of weakened teams and European priorities; none of that matters. Our fate is in our hands, not theirs, and if we can’t find that other level that we’ve pushed ourselves too so many times before, we only have ourselves to blame. This isn’t a match where we need throw down a marker and stake a claim. We’ve done that already; this where we take what’s rightfully ours.