Liverpool have defensive deficiencies but remember where they were before this season of brilliant football
After the collapse against Crystal Palace the criticism Liverpool are receiving shows that too many have forgotten how dreadful they have been for so long
IT'S been tough to work out who is in most distress following Liverpool’s capitulation to Crystal Palace.
The players? Luis Suarez’s tears offered another image for the montage creators when they piece together an overview of the season. We’ll know if that £70 million bid from Spain ever materialises if he was crying on behalf of his club or himself.
The supporters? The sight of grown men sobbing is never a good look, although Sky TV must have a designated producer on Kleenex watch at this stage of the season.
Or is it those incredulous that the storyline of the season – written and packed off to the publishers after Manchester City were beaten at Anfield a month ago – have had their ending utterly wrecked by the combined force of a Steven Gerrard slip and the most shambolic Liverpool defence performance since, well, they played Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi-final in 1990.
The story moves on so fast these days – the heroic figures of one week the villains of the piece the next - as if the Premier League has been scripted by the makers of ‘24’.
We’re all guilty – that includes all you lot on Twitter who are as much a fabric of this all-encompassing term ‘the media’ as the rest of us (myself very much included) – for not so much leaping to conclusions after every result but jumping up and down, squealing with joy or pain and declaring the end of the world is nigh or the second coming is upon on the basis of a defensive error or a wonder goal.
We’re not expressing opinions anymore but making declarations.
The immediacy of judgements is draconian and it is Liverpool’s turn in the ceaseless loop.
In the last week alone, Jose Mourinho has gone from tactical genius to over-cautious and one-dimensional; Manuel Pellegrini lacks passion and imagination after a home draw to Sunderland, but is a soothing, inspirational source of calm after a win at Everton; and now it turns out Brendan Rodgers is not the new Bill Shankly after all, but the new Kevin Keegan.
If City fail to beat Villa and West Ham, Pellegrini and Rodgers will be reappraised again, unless Liverpool also get beaten against Newcastle and Chelsea (remember them? Their title bid ended last weekend, apparently) sneak in. Then Jose will be back to being the greatest football mastermind of all time again.
Comparing Liverpool’s likely title demise to that of Newcastle in 1996 is one of the less credible reference points of the last 24 hours. Newcastle, you will remember, seemed to have the title in their grasp playing a brand of gung-ho football whereby Keegan backed his side to always score one more than the opponent. Fixtures were compared to basketball.
“Kamikaze football,” was how former Liverpool manager Roy Evans described both teams after the famous 4-3 win at Anfield.
“Everyone’s second favourite team,” was another description that came to haunt Keegan. Manchester United, by contrast, matched attacking brilliance with defensive fortitude and won the double.
In their last 13 games of that season, Newcastle dropped 21 points.
In their last 13 games, Liverpool have dropped five. Hardly an uncanny similarity, is it?
The self-destructive circumstance in which Liverpool’s title bid has faltered in the last two games has scrambled minds. They are paying this morning for exceeding expectations so much too many have forgotten how dreadful they have been for so long.
Eight months ago they were like the unseeded, former champ who was raising laughs and heckles when his supporters said he was on the comeback trail.
When Rodgers was asked after a victory over Manchester United last September if his side could compete for the title, he could barely answer, instead offering the kind of look you’d normally reserve for someone who just told you they’d seen Elvis in the nearby chip shop.
Liverpool have been a mediocre, disjointed team for the last four seasons, and an erratic, rarely consistent one for the last 24 years. What they have achieved in this campaign is extraordinary, and having reported on the club since 1998 I say without any fear of contradiction it has never been so enjoyable to cover a league campaign. If they beat Newcastle on Sunday they will have won 16 of 19 home games this season. A year that began with the modest ambition of ‘steady progress’ became something far more.
Liverpool have missed the chance nobody was giving them in the first place, an opportunity they looked like grasping for themselves with a series of intoxicatingly brilliant attacking performances which at no stage ever disguised the lingering defensive flaws so vividly and embarrassingly exposed at Selhurst Park.
The inquests into the title ‘failure’ – just like Chelsea’s on Sunday night – have been demanded too soon. You’d think those connected to Aston Villa and West Ham should call the Premier League this morning to double check if they are still required to play their remaining fixture at Manchester City.
As for the desire to suggest failure to win it this year means Liverpool may not do so again for years. Can we not see the irony that in a football age in which we don’t look beyond the next hour we are making speculative assumptions about what will happen a year from now? Can Liverpool not improve next season? Just a hunch, but there is at least one area of the team that looks like it might be worked on over the summer...
Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will spend big ahead of next season, but that doesn’t mean they will be better. As Spurs’ ever so witty internet ‘hacker’ (we believe you) will tell you, that £100m doesn’t always get you far.
The same applies at Anfield. It’s spending wisely that matters and whatever anyone else does, you only play those rivals twice in the season. As this year shows, a patchy record against the top four is no barrier to 80 points.
The immediate aftermath of debilitating defeat always brings anguish for the vanquished and much amusement for everyone else. It is the cruelty of sport.
But please, how about everyone saves the tears or donning the party hats until it’s all scientifically, mathematically, physically and emotionally over? And try to remember, for Liverpool at least, this has always been about the start of a new journey, not the end of it.