Ten years on since Bob Paisley ‘“ Liverpool’s most successful manager of all time ‘“ passed away and we find ourselves forever flirting with the idea that we may be on the verge of a feat similar to the success Paisley brought our way from 1974. The feat is glorious. 19 trophies in 9 years including 3 European Cups and 6 League titles, exceeding all expectations and exceeding predecessor Bill Shankly who won 9 in 15 years.
As Paul Tomkins says in his latest article, “It seems especially sad that the man who gave us our greatest memories should die of Alzheimer’s, a disease that systematically rids the brain of certain functions, including emptying the memory banks.”
The idea is that Rafael Benitez is on the verge of taking Liverpool into the phase where winning trophies is expected and anything less than a victory is a big disappointment. It’s clearly starting to happen. A small blip of form after an impressive 10 game winning streak left supporters disappointed and critical of tactics that have worked well throughout the unbeaten run.
Benitez has definitely got the right attitude. On Paisley’s success he said, “My idea always is to try and win every trophy, and I would love to win as many trophies as he did.” And it would appear he has the right vision and focus to build the team up at the right pace to lead the club into a glorious era without setting himself pressurizing ‘˜5-year plans’ like his predecessor Gerard Houllier.
And if winning the European Cup in your first season in the Anfield hot seat isn’t a hint that things are moving in the right direction, then what is?
But Benitez would be the first to admit there’s still a long way to go. We may be the European Champions but we lack the killer punch needed to be going into games expecting to win. The killer punch we lack lies up front, as demonstrated throughout this season. Whether it’s the choice of strikers or the service to the strikers is something I can’t decide.
In Tuesday night’s Valentines Day clash with Arsenal this was clearly demonstrated. We dominated most of the game, with the visitors barely threatening until right at the death of the game. But our attack was slow to gather momentum and therefore we made few chances. Of the chances we did make however, our strikers really should have taken.
Credit to Jens Lehmann in the Arsenal goal for having a superb game. In the first half the German keeper turned away Philippe Senderos’ clumsy header towards his own goal and then denied Steven Gerrard’s penalty.
We would do ourselves a lot of favours if we could work out how to score penalties on a regular occasion. But we consistently seem to miss them. Personally I was surprised to see Gerrard step up and take it considering his past record of spot kicks. With Robbie Fowler waiting in the wings to get his Liverpool goals tally running again, and his great goalscoring record against the Gunners I’d have thought our new number 11 would have been up there. But in all fairness, Fowler’s penalties record is probably just bad as Gerrard’s.
The atmosphere was particularly good on Tuesday night throughout the game. Probably one of the best for a Premiership match this season all contributed by Fowler’s first start for Liverpool at Anfield since 2001 and the flourish of Red attacks. But as the game went on it was looking like a very similar night to two weeks before when we left disappointed against Birmingham.
We drove forward and had several opportunities spurned by Lehmann. But none of the chances were ever clear cut goalscoring opportunities that we can really count as wasted. And that’s a problem. We should be creating them. However if Fernando Morientes does get given the chances right in front of goal, whether he’ll take it or not is another question. Quite regularly this season the answer is no.
Benitez’s fantastic substitution late on to bring on the quick feet of Luis Garcia paid off and another substitute ‘“ Didi Hamann’s shot nicely set up the goal for the little Spaniard. It was a great finish by Garcia who still had a lot of work and quick thinking to do to score the winner after Lehmann had saved Hamann’s effort.
Can you really complain though when we walk away with a victory? Okay, the sparkle isn’t there yet. There isn’t that killer instinct in front of goal, but surely it will only take time, a goal or two and with it a much needed confidence boost. All strikers at Anfield ‘“ Morientes, Fowler, Crouch and Cisse ‘“ must all try to prove themselves in the remainder of this season. None of them are guaranteed to be here come August.