Liverpool need to beat Chelsea to win the title? Uh-oh.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard appears dejected after Chelsea's Demba Ba scores his team's opening goal (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
Liverpool's Steven Gerrard appears dejected after Chelsea's Demba Ba scores his team's opening goal (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images) /

Liverpool face Chelsea in a key match in their chase for the Premier League title on Sunday, a scenario which will bring up some bad memories for Reds fans.

Steven Gerrard still thinks about the moment Liverpool’s hopes of a first league title in a generation literally slipped away from him. Even after all this time, the former Reds captain describes it as an “open wound.” That’s understandable. It was, after all, one of those landmark soccer moments. With the exception of Sergio Aguero’s stoppage time winner, it may be the most consequential individual moment ever witnessed in the Premier League.

A lot has changed since Gerrard’s infamous slip allowed Demba Ba through to score in a 2-0 win for Chelsea on April 27, 2014. While Liverpool’s title challenge under Brendan Rodgers felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, their challenge this season is the culmination of a project four years in the making.

Top of the table after 33 fixtures, Jurgen Klopp’s side have put themselves in the best possible position to end Liverpool’s 29-year wait for a championship. And yet the final five games, the final stretch, will prove the real test of the Reds’ title credentials, with Sunday’s visit of Chelsea to Anfield raking up bad memories of a similar juncture.

Liverpool are still haunted by the ghosts of what happened that afternoon. It’s been apparent in the majority of their Premier League performances since the turn of the year, with Klopp’s side fighting their nerves as well as opponents on a weekly basis. Indeed, Liverpool have looked edgy for a number of weeks now.

While Manchester City are coasting through games without breaking much of a sweat, Liverpool are slogging through their remaining fixtures. Take last week’s win over Southampton, when two late goals were required to get over the line. Or the home win over Tottenham the week before that, which was decided by a stoppage time own goal. Or the narrow win over Fulham, also settled by a late goal, the week before that.

The temptation is to label this weekend’s clash with a resurgent Chelsea side as the final hurdle Liverpool have to clear, such is the favorable nature of their run-in. After this weekend, the Reds will face Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves. City, on the other hand, still have games against Spurs, Manchester United and Leicester to come, and this weekend play away at Crystal Palace, who beat them earlier this season.

Despite Chelsea’s recent good run of form, Liverpool will be favorites to claim all three points on Sunday. The real challenge posed by the visitors to Anfield will be a mental one. Only one player (Simon Mignolet) involved against Chelsea that fateful day five years ago still remains at Liverpool, so it’s not as if the players that take the field on Sunday will have suffered the first-hand experience of a title challenge gone wrong, but there will be murmurs and mumbles around Anfield ahead of kickoff. Liverpool, as a club, certainly remembers.

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Many have pondered whether the burden of hope and expectation is weighing down Liverpool’s players. Whether the tension and nervousness felt in the stands has started to manifest itself in the performances on the pitch. Gerrard says such support is a help rather than a hindrance, but added it was “difficult” for him at times.

Gerrard is maybe the only person who knows what Liverpool’s current crop will go through this weekend and over the final few weeks of the season. How Klopp’s side cope over 90 minutes against Chelsea on Sunday will give a clear indication as to whether Liverpool are ready to be Premier League champions.

Five years ago, they weren’t ready. Gerrard’s slip has been retrospectively caricatured as a slapstick moment of misfortune, but it was just one incident in a sequence of events that proved Liverpool weren’t good enough. Sunday could see this inferiority and a few lingering ghosts of the past at long last banished.