Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding Liverpool’s recent performances there is still stuff to be positive about and today I was planning to discuss these things. I wanted to write about how things are not as bad as people are claiming and that we are a great team with lots to be happy about. Unfortunately my positive mood was considerably deflated by last night’s performance in the home defeat to Marseille in the Champions League. It is now being described by many Reds fans as ‘œthe worst Liverpool performance for many years’. This is a result that leaves us trailing Marseille by five points and Porto by three. We still have four more group games to go and therefore a reasonably good chance of going through to the knockout stages but for that to happen things will need to improve considerably and quickly.
Fortunately (yes fortunately) I had to work and was unable to see the game live. I was greatly looking forward to watching a DVD recording of the game after work. That was until I logged onto the internet at work and accidentally saw the result. I couldn’t believe it was true and ended up reading the match report which was depressing reading. I then realised the game had not long ended so I logged onto Radio Merseyside to listen to the post match phone in. What I heard was some extreme anger and the most negative slating from Liverpool fans since Houllier’s last season in charge. Most of the criticism was aimed at Momo Sissoko who I’m told was abysmal, although I hear the only player who can walk away with his head up was Pepe Reina. Reina is currently having a great season, which I will discuss later.
The most worrying comments I’m hearing concern Steven Gerrard. At one point during the game Jamie Carragher ran eighty yards to shake and remonstrate with our captain trying to gee him up. Unfortunately Stevie didn’t respond with some fire in his belly and just walked away. I hate slagging off any of our players and I still believe that Stevie G is the best midfielder in Europe if not the World. Gerrard carried the team on his back for at least two or three seasons but he hasn’t dominated a game since the F.A. Cup Final in 2006. Remember during the early stages of last season when he didn’t look very interested at times?
Since he came back from the England games (still nursing an injury?) he’s not been himself. Clearly nobody can play at a high level constantly for years and years without a slump but Stevie’s current form is a concern. The car accident when he ran that kid over a few days ago must have upset him a great deal. I would have blamed this for the performance but I can’t use that as an excuse because of his performances in other recent games. Whatever is bothering him, whether it’s physical or mental I hope he gets it sorted out sooner rather than later.
Rafa has made it perfectly clear that this season we will be focused on winning our nineteenth league title. This has been quite obvious from the first two Champions League games against Porto and Marseille. Granted we weren’t that bad against Porto and an away draw is respectable result, especially considering we were down to ten men for most of the second half. I do still think that Porto were very beatable had we gone for it and not sat back. But if an away draw in Portugal is OK, losing at home to a second rate team that is out of form is unacceptable. I am happy that we are concentrating energies on winning the Premiership but I still don’t think that means we shouldn’t try in Europe. No disrespect to Marseille, but they have been rubbish so far in the French league and we should have wiped the floor with them. This was a chance to go out and shut all the critics up and repeat the first half performance we put on against Marseille boss, Eric Gerets, previous team Galatasaray last year.
As I said at the start of this article, fortunately it’s not all doom and gloom. I was happy with our victory at Wigan on Saturday. I was very pleased to see us grafting and working hard to grind out the victory against a resilient Wigan side. We didn’t play especially well but I was encouraged by the fact that we may have ended up without the three points in this type of fixture last season. Yossi Benayoun has also shown himself to be a shining light in recent weeks. Two superb individual goals in consecutive games were the perfect way to put himself into Rafa’s plans on the right wing. His goal against Reading in the Carling Cup was unbelievable and was the best goal of the night, but was overshadowed by the Torres show. However on Saturday he fully deserved all the plaudits afterwards for a goal that gave me memories of Peter Beardsley in his prime. It wasn’t just the great goal that stood out from Benayoun, it was also his match saving clearance right at the end. It’s clear that Benayoun offers skill and class as well as heart and desire. By the end of the season he may turn out to be much more important than we realised at first.
I also need to give a ton of credit to our fabulous keeper, Pepe Reina and our wonderful defence. I was very worried when Daniel Agger got injured and wondered if Sami Hyppia would cope playing more games than usual. My fears were completely unfounded and Sami has proven he has lost nothing and remains just as solid as he’s always been. In years to come when we look back at the greatest ever signings the club has made, Sami Hyppia has to be among all the great legends who’ve worn the red shirt. Reina seems to be improving all the time. He used to look dodgy with crosses but not any more. There isn’t very much you can say to fault his all round game. This season he has banished the myth that he’s only good at saving penalties. He looks confidant in the area, he’s terrific at saving from close range and his delivery of the ball is first class. Alvaro Arbeloa has also been a revelation too. Until the Marseille game he had played every minute of every game this season and never looked dodgy at all. He was a bit of an unknown quantity when he first arrived at Liverpool but he’s turning out to be one of Rafa’s best signings.
The superb performances from our defence were rewarded with another clean sheet on Saturday at Wigan. This was our fifth shutout in the first seven league games and we still haven’t conceded a goal from open play. The two goals we have conceded have been from penalties against Aston Villa and Chelsea, and we all know that the one against Chelsea should never have stood. This terrific opening from the defence is now officially our best ever since the 1977/78 season. No matter how angry you might be today, please spend a minute thinking about this and I guarantee it will make you feel better about things.