Liverpool's win over Manchester City has made them title favourites and now Manchester United and Everton fans should be cheering them over the line.
The way in which Brendan Rodgers' men beat their rivals for the league 3-2 at home summed up their season and the reasons why they are the most deserving team left in the title race.
For most of the first-half the Reds looked hungrier and more dangerous than City and scored two brilliant goals in the space of 26 minutes through Raheem Sterling and a thumping header by Martin Skrtel. The sky blues looked shell-shocked by the intense, emotional atmosphere of Anfield.
Even though Manuel Pellegrini's side came back in the second-half, Liverpool were still able to snatch all the points through Philippe Coutinho's quick thinking in the box. It was the kind of moment that only comes to worthy champions: a stroke of luck made by hard-work, belief and players in the form of their lives.
Winning titles by scoring one more than your opponent is the sort of stuff every fan in the stands dream of, and there's no doubt that that Rodgers' team have played the best football in the league this year. That alone should make even their most fierce rivals root for them. Some might disagree but the game is now a form of entertainment. May be even the greatest form of entertainment we've ever come up with. That's why Liverpool are the most deserving side of the season and must be supported and respected on their run into May.
Wanting the season's greatest side to fail to win is damaging to the league, especially when they're the most prolific and exciting side in the title race, as shown by the table below:
|Goals / played||1.94||2.74||2.69|
If the number of goals they've scored or the genius of their attackers' combinations don't do it for you, spare a thought for the incredible, poignant context of a title win for the Reds this year.
Not only would it be their first championship in 24 years but a victory to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster when 96 fans lost their lives. Since that terrible day, the families of the victims have been fighting for the real truth behind those tragic events. Justice For The 96 was been the rallying cry on Merseyside for a quarter of a century now, and even though many outside of the city have mocked their quest for answers that justice could soon be at hand. A new inquest opens in December after documents were released showing the authorities to be at fault rather than the fans.
As fellow football fans who suffered in the dark days of the 80's, others usually opposed to the club should buy into this symbolism as a victory for the game, for the fans and for justice. For once, this is bandwagon that should be jumped upon.
The players know the importance of this title too. Just look at how much it meant to them at the final whistle.
In the stands and on the field, people came together with the kind of joy that's become rare in the professional world of modern football. Steven Gerrard, the hero of the game, had tears in his airs as he looked up to the sky as if to dedicate his performance to his cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley who died at Hillsborough. As he pulled his teammates into a huddle around him he looked like a man possessed, in touching distance of a moment he thought would never come. The next four games will see him digging dip again to block opponents' chances across the field as he did against City. He is the heart and soul of the team and the club on the field and showed what it means to him.
If their brilliant, high-scoring football or the emotional significance doesn't move you, perhaps the chance for Gerrard to finally lift the Premier League trophy will? The ultimate one-club man, he has toiled away at Anfield for his entire career, even though at his world-class best it looked like he'd never win the title with his local club.
The efforts of his latest manager is another reason to back Liverpool too. Rather than pouring money in to get results, Rodgers has built his side up with clever tactics and squad-building. The Reds now have a group of some of the most likeable players in the league in Jordan Henderson & Co. Most of their key players come across as honest and modest pro's who just want to do their best for their team and the fans. They're so admirable in fact that even the presence of Luis Suarez in the squad is no longer enough to be distasteful, regardless of his growing list of misdemeanors.
A win for smart coaching and responsible team-building would be a victory for English football's unpredictability and chances for the future. No longer would over-spending be seen as the only way to improve. Clubs might start putting less at risk, helping to cut down the number of financial meltdowns in the game.
So United and Everton fans, for once it's time to get behind the Reds. They've been the best side this season, have a cause to fight for, a captain who deserves a title more than most and a manager who shows the way forward for others. He's more than just a tactician too. He gets what it means to lead such a historic club, as shown by his gesture to the Kop early in the game as his team's passing game at the back went awry. His hand up to the fans showed that he understood what was at stake and the trust they now have for each other.
Put aside your complaints with the bad blood of the past or petty tribalism. Every club has a few nasty supporters, and even if for whatever reasons you think Liverpool may have more than most, now is not the time. The majority are decent, knowledgeable and fair, and it is for them that this year should end in a big win. Perhaps the biggest, greatest title win of the Premier League era.
United fans especially should respect the importance of Liverpool's title challenge given the symbolism involved with many of their proudest triumphs and the Munich Air Disaster. Once again, forget the tasteless jibes that some fans may have made about that tragedy in the past, it's time to rise above it.
Already, more neutral fans from across the league are getting behind the Reds, from Newcastle to Southampton and beyond. Don't be left behind by bitterness. Come join the ranks of those wishing the best for Stevie G and his squad as they try to do the incredible, and finally bring the title back to Anfield, for football and for the 96.