SO, for the second time in five days Liverpool FC threw away a lead against a top team. Instead of six points and the top four well within our reach we are left with two points and seem somewhat stuck in a vacuum, together with Swansea and West Brom; comfortably in the top half of the table, but with Europe looking more and more unlikely.
There is something agonizingly familiar with this situation. My question is: Coincidence or symptom?
There are multiple factors hiding behind the fine line dividing success and failure. You’ll need the right manager with the right tactics for the right group of players – at the right time. Then there’s the manager in the opposite dugout trying to achieve the very same objectives. In sum this creates the basis of the visible competitive environment we as observers evaluate every day and put under intense scrutiny throughout the whole year (minus a few weeks of post-season depression, when real life catches up on us).
What we don’t see as clearly though are the hidden traits and the angst; the quirks that transpire from fans to players and vice versa, and in many ways consume the whole club: The fear of losing, or rather the fear of not ever being able to claw our way back to the whereabouts of the old perch.
Therein lies the fear of losing, I suppose; because every time we fail to win or perform, we feel that chill down our spine. The corner wasn’t turned this time either. Back to the drawing board. Gerrard is past it, Downing bottled it, Allen is rubbish. Investment is needed now, not in six months. This ‘tippy-tappy’ football doesn’t work in the Premier League. Rafa would have done things differently. Our squad is festered with weaklings. No wonder Brendan Rodgers hired a sports psychologist…
So, we give away a 2-0 lead at the Emirates with thirty minutes to go. Who do we blame? Daniel Agger, for leaving Giroud with a relatively easy header to restore belief for the Gunners? Or was it inevitable?
The timing of it all was devastatingly rotten; ten more minutes and the Arsenal players’ heads would undoubtedly have started to drop. Admittedly they were playing well – as well as any team has played against us this season – but simultaneously it was clear to see the doubt was starting to creep upon some of their players. We had the chance to wrap it up comfortably, but we blew it.
What about the City game then, was it all down to Reina and Skrtel? A dominant and highly promising display undermined by personal errors? Or just a sublime goal by one of the best players in the world? Is there a common denominator?
Now, these two games were as encouraging and discouraging as they were comparable and incomparable. Encouraging, because of our purpose in attack and the manager’s different approach to the two games. A certain pragmatism taking the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses into account while trying to be true to the fundamental rule: It’s not about the long pass or the short pass – it’s all about the right pass.
The execution against City was near perfect; patient when required, while direct when the opportunity was there. We tried to do this at the Emirates, but Arsenal had much higher intensity in their pressing than City managed and our possession game never really got going.
I thought the tactical intent was right for both games; some will say the approach against Arsenal was defensive and defeatist, but I thought sitting deep was the right move. Their midfield and front three could easily have torn us to shreds had we tried to press them.
We got a little taste of it early in the first half when we tried to press and Wilshere easily picked out Cazorla between the lines – the move ending up with Giroud slicing his finish wide from a good position. Rodgers adjusted the midfield after this, and Arsenal struggled to knit together their devastating moves the rest of the first period.
Against City we saw a more dominant and possession based approach; the one we perhaps expected to see every game with Brendan Rodgers in charge, based on his Swansea team last season. Probably our best performance this season, away against the champions. And we were left with what felt like nothing but agony there and then. Now though – a couple of days later – it fills me with nothing but great optimism and belief.
We have been here before though. It feels like we always are. On the brink of something, without knowing which side we’ll fall down on. The angst is there, driving us forward and holding us back at the same time; the familiar feeling – the faint but yet so powerful and devious voice in the back of our heads – that says we have become some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, destined to forever delve into our glorious past to seek comfort instead of drawing a line and looking forward.
It takes strength to draw that line. From players, fans and manager – and from owners, to keep calm even if the waters become a bit muddy. We are what we are; here and now, not 25 years ago.
The good news is there’s always hope and belief connected with a great past. Without it there would be no mental beast to conquer, and for Liverpool fans all over the world this will always connect and unite us in our quest for restored greatness.