Steven Gerrard was the first to use the sports psychiatrist's services and the way he has gone about his business has been nothing short of exemplary. – AFP Photo
WHEN the final whistle against West Ham blew, hands were flung into the air and fists were pumped. Tick off another must-win as the title dream keeps rolling on.
One can only wonder what relief went through the players after fighting not only a tough West Ham team and every single trick – like a dry pitch and a hot dressing room – but also their emotions.
With themselves as their own worst enemy, the Liverpool players started with nerves and trepidation. It strait-jacketed the way the team had been playing but once Steven Gerrard slotted home the winner from yet another deserved penalty, the players started to believe and play incisive, positive football. Gerrard scored the other penalty in their 2-1 win.
Getting a handle on the anxiety will be paramount for Liverpool, as the race for the title will be uncharted territory for virtually the entire squad. Apprehension quashes the free flowing style of play which has been key in the now nine-game winning streak.
Liverpool do not just rely on their players to get a grip of their emotions. The days of having the bottle to deal with pressure have now been supplanted with the aid of experts.
The team employ sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters to infuse a sense of calm and belief. His ways are said to channel belief and achieving one’s dreams. It’s that which the team need to buy into quickly to minimise the adverse effects nerves can have on the flow of play and the number one fan of Peters has been Gerrard.
Gerrard was the first to use Peters’ services and the way he has gone about his business has been nothing short of exemplary. He has completely transformed himself into a deep sitting midfielder, a quarterback marshalling the back four and spraying passes to the forwards like no other player in the league can.
He has exuded calm from that position over the past few games, considering that he is the one player on the team that the title will mean so much more to.
For me, his transition to the deeper role calls for less taxing, lung-bursting runs. Fewer aggressive sprints mean that Gerrard covers less area on the pitch than before and his movements are almost measured. That will mean he will expand less energy and the switch might just allow Gerrard to preserve his legs for a couple more seasons.
Having fresh legs is something the team will need when they host Manchester City on Sunday.
Liverpool’s record against City at Anfield shows a pattern of stubbornness. Refusing to relent, most games in the league have ended in a stalemate, bar two victories over a nine-year span.
In December, when the two teams met, the Reds were without Daniel Sturridge.
Now, Liverpool can count on his flourishing partnership with Luis Suarez to offer a different proposition compared to the last time they met. The vigour of attack and the all-round action game will mean that they will relish facing City, who play with the ball on the turf, unlike West Ham, whose direct and physical play nearly upset Liverpool.
Handling their nerves will be important as Liverpool face City in what has to be the biggest league game of the season so far. It’s the title that’s at stake in a winner-take-all game. It might be the biggest league game in 24 years.
Both teams have been in tremendous form of late, arguably the best two over the past 10 games. They have the most potent firepower, with Liverpool scoring 90 and City 84. City have star power but Liverpool have the horse power with their younger legs.
As the game will be played to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, emotions will be high at Anfield.
Paired with the air of expectancy, the issue is how Liverpool will take to the game – will it be one overcome by nerves or one where the spirit of the players will surpass whatever is in front of them?
Jagdev Singh Sidhu believes Liverpool will beat Manchester City. Book it.