The heat is on Liverpool as they aim to become champions for the first time since 1990. Jurgen Klopp’s squad have been outstanding this season but how they cope with tension over the remaining 13 games will decide their campaign.
Anfield heroes Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, Alan Kennedy and Jason McAteer gave their insight to Sportsmail’s Dominic King on the demands facing the current squad in the battle for the title.
Are the players coping with the pressure?
Fowler: I don’t get what people are talking about. Liverpool are level on points at the top, with a game in hand! There will be loads of twists and turns ahead. People can say they are this or that and it’s true they aren’t playing as well as they did at the start of the season. But they’re still top!
McManaman: If Liverpool beat Bournemouth 5-0, you aren’t going to talk about pressure, are you? Mo Salah carries his country, Egypt, on his own shoulders. Does he feel pressure? I think you would find more pressure on a Scouser in the team, because of the club’s history. But the word ‘pressure’ is nonsense, to be honest.
Owen: You don’t think about pressure, really. I certainly didn’t. When I look back on my career, I think, ‘Wow, I was the goalscorer for Liverpool and England, playing in World Cups and FA Cup finals’. When you look back you realise there was huge pressure. The Prime Minister is under the most pressure. But, after that, there is not much more pressure than being a top player at a top club that is going for the title or in a final. Half the bloody world are watching!
McAteer The last 10 games of the season the pressure is hyped up and it is like in any sport. If you are a golfer, trying to win your first major, going down the final stretch with three holes to play and you have a two-shot lead, all kind of thoughts creep into your head. It is human nature. It is elite sport.
As in 1996-97 when you fell from top to 4th?
Fowler: If you put it that way with the results, we clearly didn’t handle it well at all. The one thing I would say now is that, in football, you can’t start thinking too much about the future. You just have to take each game as it comes.
McAteer: The games against Coventry (lost 2-1 at home) and Wimbledon (lost 2-1 away) still stick in my mind 22 years later.
McManaman: When I looked around the dressing room, I don’t think it was pressure. We probably had a little less quality than the opposition at times in big games. You don’t have to be born and bred in Liverpool to know that when you’re top of the league with a third of the season to go, what an opportunity it is. These lads know that. They want to grasp it. Whether they have the quality right at the end is another thing.
What impact will Anfield have on run-in?
Owen: I was at the Leicester game last week and I felt a nervousness (around the stadium) after about 15-20 minutes. The fans are going to be so important on the run-in. Be as noisy as possible, get behind the team. That helps players massively. If it’s like that, Anfield could carry Liverpool to the title. If there is nervousness, you feel it as a player and you become scared of giving the ball away. You have to be free in your mind.
McAteer: These days, with social media, it is difficult to escape the pressure. The lads will say they are not talking or thinking about it but you can’t help but do it. It’s human nature. The manager is asked the question every week because results aren’t quite going their way. It just all plays a part in the pantomime of the run-in.
Kennedy: This team has been top very early. In my day, in the 1970s and 1980s, we used to leave it as late as possible and make a surge at Easter. We built up a head of steam then we said to ourselves after Christmas: ‘Every game; we have to win every game’. That was the attitude. I think these players have a good attitude.
Just another day at the office then?
Owen: I don’t think players are going to bed nervous and thinking there is pressure on them. That is their life. It’s not a choice and it is not just happening for one day. They live like this. It works the other way around. When you retire, like I have, and you don’t have that pressure any more then you can go a bit doolally. You almost feel you have no purpose in life any more. That was what everything was about when you were a player. They won’t be feeling pressure or losing any sleep about things.
So it’s all systems go for the title?
McManaman: When you have a history as long and as varied as Liverpool, you’re always going to get these questions. My only concern is the players staying fit, really. A lot of them had a long World Cup. This is the most important part of the season, this is where Liverpool are getting their worst spate of injuries.
Owen: I’m not concerned at all. Everyone had written the league off a while ago, saying City had won it. Then Liverpool came back to go seven points ahead and everyone else was being written off. There is a long way to go.
Kennedy: Bournemouth is the next game now. Win that. Don’t look too far ahead. If Liverpool win every game, they win the league. Simple as that. So that is what their mindset should be.Daily Mail