One of the most unpleasant experiences that some of us have to go through in life is seeing a loved one suffering through a long-term illness. Some days it looks as though there’s hope for a quick recovery, while on other days it looks as though the condition is in danger of progressing to a critical stage. Those feelings are much the same as what we’ve been experiencing with our beloved club this season, where sometimes we are filled with hope for a turn-around and yet at other times we’re filled with despair. It’s been a strange season so far, and as we look toward our final run-in to the end of this campaign, we really have no idea what the prognosis will turn out to be.
In any other season, a home fixture against Portsmouth would be a case of “how many will we score?” rather than “can we win?” As I got ready to watch this one last night, I was actually wondering if we might lose. That’s more than just a little out of character for me; I normally look at every match as being one that we can win, and can win easily, no matter who we face. But this season I’ve actually been as pessimistic as I’ve been in quite a few years about where we’ll finish at the end. We started off badly with a loss at Spurs and then went on to suffer more losses in the Premier League over the next couple of months.
We were only three games into the season and we’d already lost as many as all of last season (two), including a humiliating 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa who were billed as one of the threats to break into the top four – but surely not at our expense! By the end of October, we’d lost to Spurs, Villa, Chelsea, Sunderland, and Fulham in the Premier League, putting us well off the pace to mount any semblance of a title challenge, had lost to Fiorentina and Lyon in the Champions League with only four points from four matches, effectively putting an end to any hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages, and had been knocked out of the League Cup by Arsenal’s kids (again!). As I said to several fellow supporters at the time, our only remaining hope for the season was a good FA Cup run starting in the New Year, but otherwise our season was effectively over and we hadn’t even put the clocks back to end daylight savings time yet.
By the middle of December, the inevitable had happened with us losing out in the Champions League. We’d also lost to Arsenal and Portsmouth in the Premier League, meaning that we’d now lost seven in the first half of the season alone. That’s more than the two previous seasons combined! Could it get any worse? Surely the New Year would bring us some joy, with the FA Cup hopefully providing some consolation and possibly a reasonable chance at some silverware to redeem what was shaping up to be our worst season in many years. Well, we all know how that turned out, with a pathetic home defeat in a replay against Reading.
February arrived and gave us some hope by starting off with a win over Unirea Urziceni to put us into the next round of the Europa League, although the performances over the two legs were nothing to get too excited about. Back on the domestic front it didn’t improve at all with another loss to Arsenal, and failure to take points from Man. City. Somehow we survived all of this and were still within a few points of fourth place, although other contenders for that last Champions League spot have games in hand over us.
As if all that wasn’t depressing enough, the first half of March has given us two consecutive 1-0 losses – first to Wigan in the Premiership and then away to Lille in the Europa League. Both of those performances were so bad that we had to hope that we’d now reached rock bottom and couldn’t possibly sink any further. Surely there must be some improvement soon as it’s unthinkable that we’d fail to finish in the top four, but there are only a handful of games remaining. Which brings us to last night.
There were several reasons to worry about this one, including the last two sub-standard performances, the fact that we’d already lost to Pompey earlier this season, and that we’d failed to win a Monday night fixture in our last eight attempts. But as it turned out, we needn’t have worried and we won convincingly on the night with what was one of our best performances of the season. Actually that’s not saying very much, but considering the state we were in before kick-off we desperately needed a convincing win.
Rafa finally put out a side that didn’t include Lucas and Kuyt, giving Babel a rare starting place and Aquilani only his fifth start of the season, plus the return of Glen Johnson at right back. Overall it looked like a much more attack-minded side, and that proved to be the case with Maxi Rodriguez combining nicely with Aquilani and Torres, resulting in the first goal after 26 minutes. Two more from Babel and Aquilani pretty much put an end to the contest before half time, with three unanswered goals in six minutes on the way to a 4-1 win.
Three goals in six minutes! That last sentence should bring back some memories of happier times, and hopefully this could be the turning point as were the three goals in six minutes in Istanbul. From being written off as dead and buried back then, we fought back and went on to victory. Such glory won’t be in our immediate future, but at least the signs of life are there to be seen and that has to give us some hope. We desperately needed something to lift the spirits and bring back the confidence that we seemed to be lacking, and this should surely do that. What we have to do now is build on that and look forward to a strong run-in to the end of the season.
Our next few matches will be a big test for us, beginning with Lille on Thursday where we need to overcome a 1-0 deficit from the first leg, followed by a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday. But, those of us with reasonable memories will recall where we were at around this stage last season. We managed to thump the mancs 4-1 in their own park after being similarly written off a few games earlier, and opened up the race at the top. This time around we’re not even close to challenging for second place, but we have to believe that fourth place is surely well within reach.
All we can do from now until the end of the season is go out and win as many games and pick up as many points as possible. And, if the gods are with us, then we’ll hopefully see Spurs, City, Villa, and others, drop away as contenders. We have a habit of having a strong finish to a season and we have to hope that this year’s finish is as strong as ever.
We also have the Europa League to contend with, which is our only remaining hope of silverware for this season and would be our first trophy in four years if we were to be successful. It’s often been said that Liverpool Football Club is all about winning trophies, and normally I’d agree with that sentiment. But to be honest, I’d happily give up on the Europa League if it would let us concentrate on the Premiership and give us the all important entry to next season’s Champions League by finishing fourth. That’s a terrible thing to say, and a club like Liverpool should never have to make such choices, but that’s pretty much where we stand.
After feeling as though the season was already as good as over back when we were turning the clocks back, I’m now starting to feel a good deal more optimistic as we put the clocks forward. Surely it’s better to look ahead than to look back, and really that’s all we can do. As the cliché says, there’s still a lot of football to be played, and I for one will be behind the players 110% cheering them to victory right to the end. I hope you’ll be there with me, in spirit if not in person, remembering always that “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”