I’m the fan who demands my one year in denial. I cling to the hopes of last season, refusing to believe something can’t be salvaged from this one (as the definition of salvage changes from Can we still finish top four? to Can we still finish top six? Top seven?) With my team so plagued by injury and other abrupt halts to any momentum, I’ve looked to those few inspiring performances to show me that a run of great form is on its way. October’s lively win over United made me sure we were about to put the early season problems behind us and go on a streak. Nope. We didn’t win again for another month. (And that was against Debrecen, a day we got kicked out of the Champions League anyway because Fiorentina beat Lyon).
Then in January, despite the continual problems with fitness and form, we managed a nice little unbeaten streak. No stand-out matches, but it looked like Liverpool were coming together. We lost to Arsenal in February, ending that streak, but we put up a good fight and were building momentum toward the City match which had become incredibly important. A time to take all the points from a strong rival and make make a serious bid on top-four placement. But our players forgot how to pass the ball and couldn’t gain an advantage despite a brilliant defensive outing. Crushed.
And then there was Wigan.
I stand by the optimism I felt after the Blackburn match (see my last post). Our team was finally showing some spark formwise. Just to see Maxi linking up with Gerrard and creating chances. It felt like things could really come together. It looked like our players were finally all on the same page. But I should have known better. I should have known from that victory over United that this was too good to last more than ninety minutes.
In our defense, the pitch at Wigan should be condemned. I think the grass was made of steel bristles. The ball had no movement and led to some horrible miscues including Dirk’s awful pass in the defensive third that gave them the ball back and led to the goal (with awful man-marking thrown in for added painful viewing). My friend Tim texted me from New Hampshire: “It looks like they’re playing in sand.”
That being said: our players needed to adjust to the conditions and get something out of the match. Okay, the ball is moving like it’s been bronzed and filled with stones… it’s awful. But you’re professional footballers! Kick it harder and make something work! You’ve played on shit pitches before, right? In the FA Cup? In the Carling? C’mon! We looked like first-day amateurs while Wigan looked like champions, sleekly moving the ball around their pitch (which they are used to) as we stumbled and missed again and again.
Now, I expect us to act like nothing happened and go out and play well against Lille today. That seems to be the plot device in the story of Liverpool’s season. We’ll play well against Lille. Maybe both legs. In the middle of that we’ll beat Portsmouth. Win or lose, we’ll play well against United because we rise to a higher level against tougher opposition. Then we’ll crash upon the wall against Sunderland. We’ll drop two points at least no matter how well we’ve played going up to that. It’s not a foregone conclusion but it sure wouldn’t surprise me.
But go ahead, Liverpool. Show me I’m wrong. Rafa says Wigan was a fluke. I pray he’s right. We’ve put our title hopes on hold until next year. We are on the cusp of doing the same with our top four hopes. But no matter where we end, I just want to see some good form! I just want to remember why I love watching this team. That side that scored all those late goals to secure last-gasp points. That side who pushed a promising Spanish talent into a record breaking Premiership scorer. That side who did the double on United, Chelsea and Real Madrid last season. I want to remember what it’s like to lose my voice screaming at a television with unbridled glee at 10 in the morning on a Sunday. There’s still time for some of that. Right? It is not so much to ask.