At the back end of 2008, only a month and a half ago, we were sat proudly at the top of the Premier League and a full ten points ahead of Manchester United. Fast forward to today and we wake up this Monday morning seven points behind United; our title dreams all but over.
Perhaps we had false hopes. Building up such a fantastic lead in the first half of the season, winning games we shouldn’t have, looking like a Championship winning team again. But we haven’t truly played out of our skins all season. And now we’re not winning those games that we shouldn’t be allowed to. Now we’re not looking like a team worthy of competing for the title. Yesterday’s 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City showed we have weakness in abundance.
Yes, we missed Steven Gerrard as we finally woke up after going behind to former Red Craig Bellamy, just minutes into the second half. But that’s no excuse if you want to be Champions. As Kevin McCarra writes in this morning’s Guardian:
Had the injured Steven Gerrard been on hand, a recovery that led to Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser would probably have proceeded to victory. Few will resist making the comparison with United, who scarcely seem conscious of the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney.
United continue to triumph every time they run out onto the pitch. They have a team spirit that’s making them look pretty untouchable at the moment. We don’t. Yesterday’s performance was poor, weak, unorganised and more many parts of the match Man City were controlling play like they were the home team.
But what do we expect? Why was this season ever going to be any different than the usual disappointment?
Sam Wallace writes in this morning’s Independent that Liverpool have found themselves in a position more familiar with the likes of Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea over the years ‘“ playing second fiddle in a title race with United.
All the teams who have found themselves succumbing to Ferguson’s sides in title races over the last 16 years have crumbled in their own distinctive way. However, there was something familiar about the dread at Anfield yesterday, something similar has, at different times, gripped the likes of Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea over the years. A fateful anxiousness that meant when Craig Bellamy scored Manchester City‘s goal on 49 minutes, it was not entirely unexpected.
There was an atmosphere of we know what’s going to happen around Anfield today. Reports that Benitez had just rejected another contract offer from the club were circulating, and nerves swept the stadium. Paul Joyce in this morning’s Daily Express says:
The increasingly tiresome saga over his future appears to have even left the Kop disenchanted, with Benitez’s name hardly chanted, if at all, during a tense and ultimately unrewarding day.
So what now?
There’s still 12 games to go and United haven’t won the title just yet. It was only last week that Benitez himself still claimed Aston Villa were in with a shout. So surely it’s possible? And United’s bubble has to burst at some point, right? If omens are anything to go by, then the fact that Benitez found himself 8 points behind Real Madrid with 12 games to go when he won La Liga in Spain with Valencia must stand us in good stead.
The Spaniard himself yesterday though admitted things are going to be tough now. Victory at Old Trafford on March 14th is a necessity. I think it’s only inevitable that the club’s off the field problems will continue for the remainder of the season ‘“ after all, Rafa may never sign that new contract even though he should be kept at all costs.
But on the pitch there are problems too. Lack of firepower, perhaps desire until the clock starts ticking faster and faster towards 90 minutes. Sam Wallace of The Independent notes:
Nineteen years after Liverpool’s last league championship the gap to Manchester United in first place is seven points and, with a title that seems to be heading inexorably in one direction, it looks like it might yet get even bigger. Yesterday, an undefeated home record in the league that stretched back to December 2007 was in danger until Dirk Kuyt’s equaliser with 12 minutes remaining, but even at Anfield it is becoming impossible not to acknowledge a more basic truth about the state of this team.
Maybe we were never good enough to challenge this season all along. Maybe United winning the league for the 18th time is set, as the rest of the Premier League fail to compete. Kevin McCarra of The Guardian concludes:
It is the misfortune of Rafael BenÃtez’s team, seven points adrift of the leaders, to be blamed for being more prominent so far than the rest of the also-rans. This game was a superfluous illustration of Liverpool’s weaknesses.