21/01/2013 11:00 GMT | Updated 22/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Liverpool: If Ifs and Buts Were Titles and Cups

Is there anything worse than being irrelevant? In the world of football at least, it is a far better thing to be hated than inconsequential. But true hate draws strength from competition, and without a level playing field even hate with a history can fade. Arsenal fans may not have publicly reveled in Spurs' revival under Harry Redknapp, but there is more satisfaction in beating a team who are chasing the same prize. A north London rivalry has been refreshed through a shared scramble for Champions League cash.

Some players draw strength from the hate of the crowd for it confirms that they too, are relevant, be it as a threat to the 'keeper or just to the shins. Managers also receive validation from anger; Jose Mourinho may claim he courts controversy to protect his players, but author of El Classico Richard Fitzpatrick disagrees, claiming: "He just likes the sound of his own voice." The production of hate remains a self-serving industry.

The Portuguese has an unerring ability to rile even the most unflappable of managers, a quality shared by Sir Alex Ferguson. Last week, the Scotsman would deliver a timely reminder of his antagonistic pedigree, harnessing Liverpools' fear of insignificance by claiming he "never even thought" about their league position. It was subtly done, but the implicit message could not be mistaken: 'You don't worry us any more'.

Whatever your opinion of Liverpool, the Premiership is less entertaining when one of its most famous clubs is floundering in mid-table. However, it remains hard to determine which direction the Reds are headed, they are an amalgam of 'ifs, buts, and maybes', with a worrying lack of definitive answers. Their 5-0 win against Norwich highlighted the potential of this inconsistent squad, but it also raised some questions.

In Luis Suarez Liverpool possess one of Europe's best forwards, but what if the tabloids continue to hound him? If he continues to score but Liverpool fail to qualify for Europe, will transfer speculation turn into something more solid? What of Stewart Downing? His first-time cross for Daniel Sturridge demonstrated his ability to be a reliable if unspectacular designer of goals. But what if he cannot build upon his mini-revival? What if his crisis of confidence returns?

Downing's main beneficiary this weekend is 'if' personified. Daniel Sturridge could be a great player, but only if he doesn't dither, if he doesn't over-complicate, if he wasn't so damn selfish. His best moment on Saturday would prove the value of altruism, as a simple, sacrificial act; a cute dummy, would gift Suarez an important goal. But can he maintain this selflessness week after week and will Suarez be there to slot the ball home next season?

Without Suarez's goals, more demands would be made on the likes of Raheem Sterling, but can he match the tabloid hype? If he is as good as we want him to be, will he maintain a head as level as his flat-top? Rumours of difficult contract negotiations, even if spurious, add more pressure onto his undeveloped shoulders. Liverpool desperately need some reliable performers to compliment their 'ifs' but even here they are hamstrung, sometimes literally.

Can Steven Gerrard ageing legs keep running as Liverpool's youths take their first steps? Maybe. Can Agger and Lucas stay fit long enough to compensate for a young team's mistakes? Perhaps. There will be lingering questions at all clubs, but there are arguably more circling Anfield than anywhere else. Man Utd and Everton have more reliable cores, but they will hope, perhaps not audibly, that their historic rival has a timely revival, so that they can have someone to hate, and so Liverpool can hate them back.