Mediocre Reds fail to justify star billing
FC Utrecht 0
THEY had been waiting a lifetime for Liverpool in Utrecht. As soon as August's draw ensured the five-time European champions would be gracing the Stadion Galgenwaard, there has been no doubt about what the season's highlight would be here.
This, the locals said, was the biggest game in their team's history. How disappointed they must have been. How deceptive packaging can be.
Where Utrecht were expecting Liverpool, the conquerors of the great citadels of the continent, instead they welcomed a pale imitation. Rather than the side which, just 18 months ago, was still capable of sacking the Bernabeu, they watched a team which was fortunate to resist opponents mired in mid-table in the Eredivisie.
Maybe Utrecht are simply being tricked by the sheen of a history written in silver. Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson was at pains to point out on the eve of this game that previous achievements count for nothing.
All of the league titles and European Cups which clutter Anfield are no advantage, he said. This was Utrecht 2010 versus Liverpool 2010.
No wonder he is so keen to distance his side from a past with which the present simply does not compare. This was his strongest team, the absent Steven Gerrard apart, but including Fernando Torres, a bid to lift the gloom which has settled on the club.
Despite earning a point to keep them on top of Group K, unbeaten in Europe, there is little prospect of the darkness breaking. Rather, the problems keep on mounting. Too narrow, too slow, too deep. No ideas, no fluency, no style.
A £17m full-back, Glen Johnson, who misplaced a five-yard pass in the first five seconds and scarcely improved after that. A £10m central midfielder, Raul Meireles, deployed on the right. A £100,000-a-week left winger, Joe Cole, who time and experience have proven not to be a left-winger.
And then there is Torres. Hodgson is adamant his striker is on the verge of exploding into the form which once made him the standard bearer for Liverpool as scourge of Europe. On this evidence, such an event remains distant.
"He will feel this was a good 90- minute workout," said Hodgson, who also dismissed concerns that Torres, who seemed to head straight for the physiotherapist on the final whistle, may have sustained an injury late on.
"He just needs that elusive goal and he had a couple of good occasions. He had two chances where he might have scored." Those two chances, both after the break -- one ballooned over, one tipped away from point-blank range by Michael Vorm -- provided Liverpool's only two moments of respite from a familiar display of mediocrity.
They were fortunate to go in level at the break after a stunning volley from Jan Wuytens had been ruled out for a push and Pepe Reina had been called into action to deny the impressive Dries Mertens. Tim Cornelisse, too, might have done better with a header, placed wide from six yards.
More followed after the break. As Utrecht swarmed forward, Liverpool shuddered. Meireles cleared off the line from Michael Silberbauer, after the usually impeccable Reina flapped at a cross, defender Aljo Schut headed wide a free-kick from Mertens and Silberbauer fired wide after a poor clearance from Jamie Carragher.
The best chance fell to Mulenga, with just 10 minutes to play: as communication between Martin Kelly and Reina failed, the Zambian sneaked in and placed his shot agonisingly wide. Liverpool, the guests of honour, clung on.
"We hope we see you again soon," Utrecht's announcer told the travelling fans. The same courtesy is unlikely to be extended to this team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)