London: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists all the pressure will be on Manchester City when his Premier League leaders take on their title rivals in a crucial showdown at Anfield next weekend.
Rodgers’ side returned to the top of the table with a contentious 2-1 win at West Ham on Sunday that showed they can cope with the stress of challenging for their first English league title in 24 years.
The Reds’ ninth successive league victory moved them two points clear of second-placed Chelsea and four ahead of third-placed City, who have two games in hand on the leaders.
Liverpool’s red-hot run is the best in the division since Manchester United recorded 11 consecutive victories in 2008-09 and Rodgers’ team will end their long wait to be crowned champions if they win their last five matches.
City’s visit to Anfield on Sunday will play a major role in deciding the destiny of the title, but Rodgers is convinced Liverpool should be able to play with freedom because, compared to Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively-assembled side, his players have nothing to lose.
“The pressure is on City because they have spent money. They have invested well to win the league and win the Champions League,” Rodgers said.
“They have world class players, but it’s about us as well. We have young players and there’s no pressure on them so they can just go out and play.
“In all the big games this year we have played really well. We should have won at City this season and we were leading in the home game as well.”
With a first title since the glory days of John Barnes and Ian Rush within touching distance, it would be understandable if Rodgers and his players let a little tension creep into their play, especially when they were hit by a controversial equaliser against the Hammers, but they showed the desire and composure of potential champions.
Having taken the lead moments earlier through Steven Gerrard’s 44th minute penalty, the Reds conceded in first half stoppage-time when Guy Demel bundled home after Andy Carroll clattered into Simon Mignolet with his arm, causing the Liverpool goalkeeper to drop the ball.
It was a clear foul and linesman Stuart Burt appeared to flag for the offence, but referee Anthony Taylor over-ruled him and awarded the goal.
Liverpool’s players were seething but they responded admirably and snatched the points in the 71st minute, when Gerrard converted another penalty, this one another dubious decision after Adrian got to the ball before Jon Flanagan, who then tumbled over the goalkeeper’s out-stretched arm.
“We are really enjoying the situation and really enjoying our football,” Rodgers said.
“We have won nine games in a row, which is incredible at this level given the young players we have got. But I never get too high after a win and too low after a defeat.
“Everyone has opinions; from the directors right the way through to fans on social media. But it’s for you guys to debate about league tables. I just focus on the performances.”
Asked about the controversial decisions, Rodgers added: “After the first goal for West Ham the referee was maybe chasing the game a bit.
“It was clearly not a goal and for the second penalty if you are the manager who got it you are pleased and if you don’t get it then you think it is contentious.”
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce was even more frustrated with Taylor and he said: “Unfortunately we are talking about the officials and not the game. The referee made big mistakes.
“The second penalty was not a penalty. He thinks Adrian hasn’t played the ball and he has. He has to be 100 percent certain. He was in a bad position but gave it.
“It looked like Andy Carroll fouled the goalkeeper for our goal but we got it. We don’t want that, nobody wants that.”