Blackpool 2-1 Liverpool
January 12th, 2011
A dream start descended into an all-too-familiar nightmare this evening as Liverpool surrendered to an unassuming Blackpool side who can now add another scalp to their collection. After securing a double over the reds it’s fair to say that they are no pushovers, but Liverpool will have been expecting to achieve a far more impressive result after the rejuvenation of their spirit over the past few days.
In a way it’s hard to understand just what went wrong during Liverpool’s ill-fated trip to the seaside. Torres’ goal in the first few minutes capitalised on the buoyant mood inside the Anfield camp after Dalglish’s return, and for once it looked like everything was going according to plan. The team’s performance was finally on par with the fans’ expectations, and the players looked committed, composed and confident. The breakthrough came earlier than anticipated and left fans overjoyed as they mulled over the prospect of a dominating victory to begin Dalglish’s league campaign: a regal return fitting of the King.
But somewhere along the way the reds lost their momentum and they succumbed far too easily to Blackpool’s energetic approach. When they equalised less than ten minutes after Liverpool took the lead, even with most of the game left there looked no way back for Dalglish’s men, who ultimately ground to a complete halt.
What this shows is a team lacking an innate belief in their ability. Though they carried themselves into the game with optimism it was no more than a facade, and after Blackpool scored the mask slipped to reveal a deeply self-conscious team who, like the girl who doesn’t get invited to the dance, are aware of their every glistening fault yet unable to convince themselves that they can do better. You could see the team’s confidence fade fast away and to this they had no reply.
But this hasn’t always been the case. A couple of seasons ago Liverpool, with many of the same players, made a habit of embarking on miraculous comebacks as though they were routine. Overturning deficits became a way of life and, though they had gone behind, confidence flowed through a team that simply wouldn’t lie down and certainly wouldn’t give up. It wasn’t a case of having more talent or playing better football; it was the simple result of a stubborn team so set in their convictions that they knew defeat wasn’t an option. If – and often when – they went behind, they knew how to rectify it: the answer was to score, no matter how late, and win.
Despite being common sense, though, this is so alien a concept to Liverpool’s current crop that they seem to have forgotten how to win at all. The sad reality is that persistent defeat can get into the players’ heads and eradicate all memory of their prior winning ways, and once this happens it’s seems unrealistic to hope it will reverse. But it’s not impossible.
It seems far too easy to point to inadequate players being the root of Liverpool’s on-field woes as of late. Many still remain from the days, not so long ago, where the reds seemed nigh on invincible, whilst some of the newer players do possess real quality. The truth of the matter is that, whichever way you look at it, Liverpool had enough ability on the pitch tonight – and often have throughout this season – to win the match. Yet they didn’t. There is certainly room for improvement and investment in the squad is essential, but many of the players currently employed by the club shouldn’t be simply written off; there is a wealth of talent here and most people understand they should be performing better.
It seems easy, too, to blame tonight’s defeat on a lack of desire. One can certainly appreciate that Torres, for example, fought and chased more than he often has this season and on another day may have added to his tally. On another note, Dalglish’s team selection may have been somewhat puzzling but he is still finding his feet with the team and may have wanted to give some of the marginalised players left over from Hodgson’s reign a chance to prove what they are capable of; he cannot be blamed for this, especially on a day where Gerrard, the spine of the team, was missing. I’d argue, like everyone else, that Maxi should play in place of Jovanovic every week and Poulsen shouldn’t be taking up a central midfield slot, but at the end of the day when they step out on the pitch they deserve our support.
So with the Merseyside derby next up everything comes full circle and it all comes back to that one key ingredient: belief. Everton always provide a stern test but if Liverpool can overcome this hurdle it will go a long way to restoring some confidence to a team that is severely lacking.
But the match almost provides evidence of a paradox: a victory will grant the team confidence, but in order to win it they will need confidence in the first place.
Step in Dalglish.
His highest priority is to restore this belief to Liverpool’s players. Whilst this is no easy task – in fact, it may well prove to be the biggest challenge of his glorious career so far – there is one glaring truth that reds fans can hold on to. If anyone is capable of its restoration – for not just anyone is – then we can rest assured that it is Kenny Dalglish, a man who embodies the spirit and philosophy of a Liverpool Football Club that will never die; a Liverpool that, whilst not currently turning up on the pitch, lies hopefully dormant in the hearts of its supporters, who understand more than anyone what it takes to achieve the impossible: belief.