THE home dressing room at Anfield is not the most obvious place you would imagine poetry to be recited.
But had Rafa Benitez quoted the opening line from Rudyard Kipling’s “If” during his pre-match team talk ahead of yesterday’s annihilation of Aston Villa it would have been most apt given the way Liverpool’s title rivals had spent the previous day.
For keeping your head while all about you are losing theirs is exactly what it is about at this stage of the season.
And while Manchester United and Chelsea look in serious danger of letting the situation get to them Rafa Benitez and his players are revelling in it.
Villa fans dream of their team being mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid and Manchester United and today they are – but only because they have become the latest victims of a Liverpool juggernaut which is threatening to mow down everything in its path.
When you have demolished the continent’s most successful club then battered the reigning European champions you really should fear nothing.
And judging by their latest command performance in front of an enthralled Anfield, Liverpool can rest safe in the knowledge that no-one can live with them in their present form.
Villa certainly couldn’t as they were swept aside with a whirlwind display which produced five goals and ensured the Reds would move within a point of United at the top of the table.
Not only that, they also took what could turn out to be a crucial advantage by surging ahead of United on goal difference and goals scored.
That will be predictable, conservative Liverpool with a better scoring output than a side which apparently puts the capital E into entertainment.
Steven Gerrard was the main man again, with a hat-trick of set pieces – two penalties and a clever free kick – which further underlined the fact that the Reds skipper is in the form of his life.
He isn’t the only one either with Alvaro Arbeloa putting in arguably the best performance by a Liverpool right back since Rob Jones made his debut, Pepe Reina stopping goals at one end and creating them at the other and Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso providing a formidable midfield axis.
It was one of those days when virtually everyone in a red shirt contributed to a team display of the highest order with unsung heroes coming to the fore and standing shoulder to shoulder with the more established stars.
Things are definitely stirring at Anfield right now, there is no question about that and the shockwaves are spreading throughout the Premier League, causing others to tremble as they realise exactly what is happening inside the Shankly Gates.
Title dreams which seemed to have been choked in the Middlesbrough smog less than a month ago are having new life breathed into them.
And there is now a genuine belief that while Liverpool may not yet have taken over at the top they are performing well enough and have the kind of momentum to make a previously unimaginable eventuality a very real possibility.
It is still a tall order for that to happen of course and United will rightly remain favourites but from being considered rank outsiders not so long ago, the Reds are now justifiably regarded as worthy challengers.
The fact that they struck a quintet of goals against the country’s fifth best side without Fernando Torres ever looking likely to hit top form says everything about how well they are currently playing.
It was Gerrard’s day to hog the limelight in front of goal but with Dirk Kuyt making the most of a rebound and Albert Riera weighing in with a thunderbolt of a volley this was a rare day when Torres did not need to hit the heights.
That will be necessary in the weeks to come if Liverpool’s impressive upsurge in form is to lead to anything more than a second place finish and thoughts of what might have been.
But with confidence and belief currently as abundant as it has been at any other time during Benitez’s reign there is no reason why Liverpool should not aim for the very top.
Twelve years ago, a similar opportunity to put pressure on United was lost when Liverpool lost at home to Coventry the day after Alex Ferguson’s side had surprisingly been beaten by Derby County.
There was no chance of that particular piece of history repeating itself yesterday though and the fact that Liverpool again won with such style and such vigour will only add to the growing feeling that they could yet have a big say in where the Premier League trophy ends up.
As squeaky bum time approaches it is Alex Ferguson’s derriere which is starting to sound like the winner of a Sweep from The Sooty Show soundalike contest.
The moment the United boss ordered his “sports technology department” to come up with the total transfer outlay of both clubs over the last five years and counted every single player to turn out for Gary Ablett’s reserve team this season it was clear that Benitez was getting to him.
The United boss cites Frank Sinatra as his hero but if he hears I’ve Got You Under My Skin over the next couple of weeks the chances are it will be Rafa Benitez’s face he sees, not Ol’ Blue Eyes’.
That’s what pressure does. It makes even the strongest stumble and causes cracks to appear in the seemingly unbreakable.
Liverpool have made this happen and now that they have exposed the frailties of United and their manager they must continue putting them under strain.
Three seasons ago, the Reds won every single one of their last nine league games and Benitez will know that a similar record this time around would give his team a realistic chance of winning the title. It is still a very big if but should Liverpool continue to keep their heads while those around them threaten to lose their own then it might just happen.
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Arbeloa (Agger, 76), ŠCarragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Mascherano, Alonso (Lucas, 66), Riera, Gerrard (Ngog, 80), Torres.
ASTON VILLA: Friedel, Reo-Coker (Gruzan, 65), Cuellar, Davies, Young, Milner, Barry, Petrov, Young, Heskey (Agbonlahor, 58), Carew (Gardner, 88).
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson.
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