Back in August last year, a couple of days before Liverpool met Manchester United in only their second home match of the league campaign, this is what Steven Gerrard had to say about the possibility of ending the Anfield title drought in the years still available to him as a player …
"It's not exactly a secret that I would like to win a Premier League title, but at 33 I have to be realistic and say I might only have two or three years left in which to do it. I think a lot of things would have to happen within the next 12 months, I'm quite a distance away from winning the league at the moment. I have to take that on the chin but I'll never give up fighting for it.
"Getting back into the Champions League might be a more achievable target – it would be a dream for me to lead the team out again on a big European night at Anfield – but even that is going to be difficult. The other four teams have all strengthened too – maybe Manchester United have not done yet but I feel they will make a big signing before the deadline – so there's still a lot of hard work to do and a lot of improvement needed if we are to nudge one of those sides out of the top four."
Had it been suggested to Gerrard back then that by mid-April United would be nowhere near the top four and Liverpool would be on top of the pile with destiny in their own hands with five games to play, he would have either fallen off his chair in surprise or, more likely, assumed it was some sort of cruel wind-up.
Yet league tables famously do not lie, and the current one frames Manchester City's visit to Anfield on Sunday as a likely title decider. Never mind that Liverpool still have Chelsea to come in the league and cannot take anything for granted even if they win at the weekend, this is already much closer than Gerrard ever thought he personally would come to seeing Liverpool end 24 years of hurt.
Brendan Rodgers has his own reasons for playing down Liverpool's emergence this season and constantly stressing that Champions League qualification was always the main objective, but his captain clearly had no idea that the missing item of silverware to complete one of the most glorious of English careers might be reachable before his 34th birthday.
Captain of his country as well as his club, Gerrard has already won a century of caps for England and played starring roles in famous Champions League and FA Cup victories, but as recently as the start of the season, winning the league still seemed a stretch too far.
So what changed? Gerrard said a lot of things would have to happen, but what did? The short answer might be Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, though Liverpool already had those two and Gerrard would have been aware his own team possessed an attacking threat. A Suárez untroubled by suspension and controversy was always likely to be a key Premier League performer, and after completing the initial ban hanging over from last season the Uruguayan's temperament has been as exemplary as his strike rate.
Rodgers deserves credit for adapting his system to allow Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to bring their pace and imagination to bear alongside Suárez, and Gerrard too has made an effective transformation into a deeper-lying midfielder.
Liverpool have developed a style that works, as Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United have discovered to their cost. Manchester City and Chelsea are the only title contenders to escape a pummelling so far, though on Boxing Day at the Etihad the visitors found plenty of space to exploit behind the home back-line and might have ended up with a point or more but for a poor offside decision that cost them a legitimate goal. While Liverpool's own defence has not been exactly been watertight this season, the goals-for column does not lie either.
Liverpool have scored more than anyone else in the Premier League, double the number Tottenham have managed and at least two dozen more than anyone else in the top flight apart from City, and have earned a reputation as the most thrilling attacking side to watch. Given that was not always the case even in the glory years of the 70s and 80s, Rodgers has put together a stylish side with title potential in a remarkably short time.
Yet impressive as Liverpool have been this season there have also been changes to the rest of the Premier League landscape. Gerrard talked of "the other four teams", meaning United, City, Tottenham and either Arsenal or Chelsea. We know now, although Gerrard did not at the time, that Spurs' strengthening with the Gareth Bale money would not amount to much, and that Arsenal's early promise had more to do with a kindly run of fixtures than the inspirational effect of bringing in Mesut Özil.
It is true that Arsenal have been unlucky with injuries, though Özil and Jack Wilshere both played in the 5-1 mauling at Anfield in February, when the former in particular cut a forlorn figure.
That leaves the two Manchester sides plus Chelsea, and though Gerrard would not have been greatly surprised to learn that Manuel Pellegrini, Fernandinho, Álvaro Negredo and Jesús Navas would re-energise City to make a second title in three seasons a distinct possibility, he would have been amazed to be told that United would not have any say in the top four this season, not even to the extent of offering nuisance value when City and Liverpool turned up at Old Trafford last month in search of points.
United have been little more than doormats for the leading teams this season, and that is something Gerrard, in particular, must have found it impossible to envisage.
It is not just the 13 titles United have won since Liverpool last finished top in 1990, or the nine times they have won the league since Gerrard made his first-team debut in 1998, it is the fact that in all the time Gerrard has been a senior player he has only known one season when his club finished ahead of their great north-west rivals. That was in 2001-02, when Arsenal won the title and with it Arsène Wenger's second double.
United had been distracted in the early part of the season by the understanding that Sir Alex Ferguson was going to retire at its conclusion, and by the time that mistake was corrected some impetus had been lost. United conceded the title when a Sylvain Wiltord goal handed Arsenal victory in the penultimate game of the season at Old Trafford, and were so disappointed they managed only a draw in their final game against Charlton, the two results allowing Liverpool to nip into second place with wins over Blackburn and Ipswich.
Third place was Ferguson's lowest ever Premier League finish at the time, United ended up trophyless for the first season since 1997-98, and Liverpool enjoyed a single summer of hollow satisfaction.
There is still, as Rodgers keeps saying, a lot of work to do before Liverpool can measure the satisfaction they will be able to take from this season. But it will not be hollow, and neither will they finish below United. That much has happened in the space of eight months, so Gerrard has his pre-season wish. The rest is down to him and his team.