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Monday, 21 December 2009

Liverpool: A Reason to Cheer

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Unlike Forest Gump I do not think life is like a box of chocolates, a veritable medley of shocks and surprises. If you sell Xabi Alonso and play Lucas Leiva in his place for a substantial part of the season, it is actually quite predictable that the team’s performances will suffer. Lucas Leiva isn’t a bad player, and Alberto Aquilani is probably going to prove an astute addition to the squad. It’s the timing that worries me.

Last season, by Liverpool’s recent domestic standards, was a tremendous effort. I realise that such hearty praise should not be garnered from finishing second, but frankly it cannot be helped. They lost only twice, scored the most and conceded the third least, with Torres and Gerrard combining to net thirty league goals between them. Being in a title run-in was refreshingly exciting for the fans.  Rafa had cracked it. This was the formation, a solid spine had developed impressively, and they possessed a couple local lads to remind everyone just what the jersey means. Perhaps the strongest department of the side was the multi-talented midfield triumvirate; determination, subtlety and power in abundance. I found myself becoming rather optimistic over the team’s chances during the long summer months. Although with poor weather, a recession and a flagrant dislike for a Saturday night devoid of Match of the Day I concede that it was easy to get carried away with dreams of going one further in the 2009-10 campaign.

So here we are staring Father Christmas in the face safe in the knowledge that Liverpool should be gobbling up points left, right and centre. Sure, Liverpool are suffering from injuries that renders the first eleven a shadow of its true quality, but all you need to do is pick up any newspaper and you will notice the recurring theme of ‘Team X is underperforming this season, predominantly due to an unprecedented injury crisis’. Liverpool are certainly not alone in pointing to the physio’s room (and Real Madrid) to locate the crux of the clubs talent.

Perhaps a source of salvation for the club will be their participation in the Europa League. Last Friday’s draw pitted Liverpool against fellow Champions League drop-outs Unirea Urziceni. Under the confident stewardship of Dan Petrescu they have excelled, emerging victorious against both Glasgow Rangers and Sevilla during the group stage. Although Liverpool will feel the draw was favourable, it would be folly to write off the Romanians in a blaze of naivety, but Rafael Benitez is notoriously meticulous in European competition and it won’t be long before Gerrard et al. are well versed in Unirea’s style of play. Hope stems further from Liverpool’s game at Lyon, which was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished performances of the season so far, with the team working in unison to both stifle and create to good effect.   

Benitez has stated on numerous occasions that he believes the club is moving in the right direction despite their less than impressive form. One of the more endearing features of the clubs struggles on the pitch is the steadfast support afforded to him by the players. Surely if the likes of Reina, Gerrard and Torres posses an unshakeable belief in the regime then it can only yield positive results long-term. Any fan that pays to watch their team demands 100%, and judging by the sheer devastation on the faces of some Liverpool players after defeat against Portsmouth the fight remains, just maybe the rub of the green does not. Countless predictions have been aired in the media as to how and if Liverpool will rise from their current predicament, but if the Europa League can prove as galvanising as it did in that cup laden season in 2001/02 maybe next summer can be as optimistic as the last at Anfield.   

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Mark Colman



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