Ten years ago and some of the most anticipated matches in the Premier League were those contested between Newcastle United and Liverpool FC, with an epic 4-3 win for the home side at Anfield often recognised as the Premier League's most memorable game of the 90s, one which both clubs were proud to be a part of.
Both were teams who were forever clinging to the top of English football. Newcastle defeated Man Utd 5-0 only to eventually finish in 2nd place at the end of the '96/'97 season, and although close to the top of the league and with impressively long cup runs, both Newcastle and Liverpool remained underachievers with a close connection, helped in large part by the Keegan/Dalglish link.
Newcastle could boast, during these years, a team which included David Ginola, Shola Ameobi, Shay Given and, of course, Alan Shearer, and played a style of game which would make Arsenal proud today. No one questions the pride the fans have in their club and the history which makes it a great one, but with a slow decline throughout the first half of this passing decade they somehow found themselves on the losing end of an intriguing relegation battle. Many blame bad owners and inept management brought about by a crisis in finances, and surely this is exactly where Liverpool find themselves now?
If my thoughts come to fruition, in a world recession we can imagine the decline will be much swifter, and not prolonged over the period of five years. The issue is mainly brought about by the question as to whether, unless Liverpool can pull themselves out of a run in bad form which finds them 7th behind Aston Villa and Spurs, and actually somehow finish fourth at the end of the season, will they ever get their place in the so-called "Big Four" back? Without more secure finances and the promise of Champions League football to offer prospective purchases in the transfer market, Man City will place themselves firmly in the position at the top of English football which has been held, traditionally, by Liverpool.
Fans of Liverpool are not as notoriously fickle as those of teams such as Chelsea at the top and numerous teams at the bottom of the League table, but patience is wearing thin. Someone must go, and unless its the incapable owners who have, in no way, shown any dedication to "their club" then it will be the manager. Unless Liverpool find themselves ending the season having taken part in a cup final either at home or in Europe and finishing in, at the very least, fifth place in the Premier League, it makes no difference as to whether the first to leave is Rafa Benitez or Fernando Torres, both will, and it spells the end.
Liverpool's most recent performances have been worthy of a finish in the bottom half of the table, amongst teams which now look more their equal than any in the top seven. The injury crisis which caused Liverpool's atrocious start to the season does not explain why, in a game away to the team at the bottom of the table, their first team fails to score let alone why they lose 2-0. Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres all started, and yet goals would have looked more likely had Pacheco, Ngog, Ayala and Darby been on the first XI, and that is no exaggeration.
One must wonder, then, are Liverpool now in the same place Newcastle United found themselves two seasons ago, and will they meet with the same fate? Media scaremongering makes speculation seem pointless, but 4th place looks truly a mile away for Liverpool Football Club. While silverware is needed to ensure they keep players such as Torres and Mascherano, it really will ask for one of Liverpool's signature comebacks to bring them back to the top over a number of years if they finish outside the top four this season. No one could have imagined it happening to Newcastle back in 1998, but without a major turnaround, the Championship beckons for Liverpool FC….