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Fan Diary #12: Flailing at Sunderland and Anfield

It’s tempting to heave my piling anger, frustration, pain, and total bewilderment on a red beach ball.  It’s tempting to lament the many injuries my side picked up while the players were dispersed for the international break. But after watching Liverpool lose their third and fourth matches in a row, their worst losing streak since 1987, I know these things are easy scapegoats for my desperate state of trying to figure it all out. Our problems exist on a wider scale and would still be plaguing Liverpool supporters even if the Sunderland goal had been disallowed or if our stars had been playing in the league the week before last and not helping their countries chase the World Cup.

Okay, The Beach Ball Moment was ridiculous and surreal and I am still trying to remember if it really happened or if it was part of a dream I had after late night pizza and video games. But it alone did not cost Liverpool the points at the Stadium of Light. Bent’s shot deflected off the foreign object and went in on 5 minutes. Liverpool then had more than an hour-and-a-half (when we remember the seven minutes of second-half stoppage time) to rectify the situation. But from Bent’s “goal” onward, they played like the match was over and done.

The Liverpool of last season would have let that early goal against be the spark, the lighting rod to spur them into the winning mindset. But our attacks were unconvincing and languid. And in all that time we never took control of the match. Without the balloon goal, we were still drawing Sunderland at best. We needed maximum points to keep believing the title is still in reach. We were never coming away from that fixture with more than a point.

Then, against Lyon yesterday, I started to think we were snapping out of it. Even when Steven Gerrard came off with his injury flaring up again, Liverpool looked like they could keep the French side on the back foot and come away with the win.

Yossi’s measured shot was fantastic. He took the ball in the box, calmly aligned himself and fired it past the keeper. Another sure sign that LFC’s favorite Israeli international should start every week.

Substitute Fabio Aurelio also made a great impact once on. With Gerrard gone, Fabio looked like he knew what needed to be done and he kept creating chances and even had a beautiful shot on goal which I am still amazed the Lyon keeper saved. He put one hand up to Fabio’s effort just in time.

The side was maintaining good pressure after the first goal and I felt sure we’d get another. (Until Rafa subbed Yossi off, I felt sure Yossi would get another. Voronin for Yossi. I almost threw up.)

But when Lyon got the equalizer, we collapsed. Pepe Reina made two fantastic saves in quick succession but couldn’t secure the ball and Lyon’s third attempt went in.

In stoppage time we conceded again.

Losses to Lyon and Fiorentina. We beat Debrecen, but they put up an amazing fight at Anfield and I only see them giving us a tougher contest when we visit them in Hungary. I felt so good about this group when we drew these teams. I knew nothing of Debrecen, but I saw Fiorentina and Lyon as sides who would inspire us to great performances. We usually rise to the challenge of stiff opposition. Now it looks as though we won’t live to see the round of 16.

Our title hopes, which were so fresh and alive last season, look more dismal by the day and barring a win against Manchester United (which takes on the old feelings of impossibility despite doing the double over them last season), it’ll be hard to muster up the optimism that this season can produce anything tangible by season’s end.

Mostly though I just feel crushed. Last year held so much promise. I saw us building on that campaign with a firmer grasp on the League and Europe this year. Now, every match seems a struggle. The confidence, the drive Liverpool seemed to have in excess last season must have pulled a hamstring or broken its metatarsal. As with Mssrs Torres and Aquilani, it is, for now, nowhere to be seen.

Before yesterday’s match, I half-jokingly said we might have to win the Champions League in order to qualify for it next season. Now, we are flailing in both of the most coveted competitions. I have a dark vision of us struggling to stay in the top four at season’s end.

Then there’s the matter of Rafael Benitez.

Whenever Rafa hit a rough patch in the last couple of years, the usual media outlets would start speculating about his imminent sacking. Now with four losses in a row (the worst red losing streak in 22-and-a-half years) combined with George Gillets recent public criticisms of Rafa, one feels as though this round of speculation might have something behind it.

We need a sign of intent on Sunday. The side needs to show that it isn’t about Torres’ or Gerrard’s fitness. That our hope aren’t hanging on two players. That the rest of the group can dig in and come up with a performance on par with the 2-1 or the 1-4 against United last season. We beat them at Anfield with Torres out and Gerrard coming in off the bench and we demolished them at Old Trafford without Xabi Alonso, our most influential player last season.

And if Liverpool can do that, they must carry that mentality into the matches against Arsenal, Fulham, Lyon away and Birmingham.

Liverpool’s real problem in recent years is while we play against clubs like United and Chelsea as if everything is at stake, we don’t play every match that way. If Rafa could have convinced our boys that Sunderland were really Rooney, Berbatov, Scholes, Fletcher, and co. disguised in Blackcats kits, we may well have overcome that 1-0 deficit with room to spare.

But until we learn to play as if our fate is on the line for every match (at least in the League and in Europe) then we will not live up to the potential we showed throughout last season. And our goals will slide further from reach.

I’m trying to cling to my remaining strings of optimism. But I need something explosive on Sunday. It is time to bounce back. Even if the League is out of reach already, Liverpool need to charge toward the end of the season with the grit and integrity they showed most of last year. To the players: this team is not two men. It is time to remind the supporters and yourselves of that fact.

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  1. Eric

    October 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    To state that those two idiot owners are blameless is shocking to say the least.

  2. Jorge Curioso

    October 22, 2009 at 2:28 am

    Don’t blame the owners. Benitez has spent more than Ferguson in the past five years. The problem is the manager.

    And Liverpool’s supposed improvement last year was an illusion. They went out of both domestic cups before February, and went out of the CL in the quarters. They played 11 fewer matches than United, tanked both domestic cup competitions, and still couldn’t close the deal. Indeed, they lost the league by end of February.

    Hicks and Gillett are just fine. The problem is Benitez.

  3. Sarah Millery

    October 21, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    I believe that Torres and Gerrard will not be fit for the game against Man United, so just like last year, they are going to have to beat Man United without some of their main players (Talking about the game at Anfield last year).

    On the Rafa side of things, well Gillett has already shown his stupidity by thinking Klinsmann was a suitable replacement, so I have not faith in what the owners think.

    On a positive note Alberto Aquilani made a 20 minute appearance with the LFC reserves.

    A win for Liverpool would only leave them 4 behind United, and the way Liverpool are playing that would be a major feat to be so close, while being so bad.

  4. Matthew N

    October 21, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I tweeted this when I knew it was a loss. Don’t blame Benitez, blame Hicks and Gillett. They handcuffed Rafa and didn’t let us buy the players we needed to replace Alonso and Arbeloa. You don’t see United, City, Chelsea, or Arsenal limited on funds the way Lpool was this past offseason. I am faithful that this is just a bad spell of things and we will right the ship, but I am very disappointed in the team this far. I only hope that the owners will just sell the club and we can get someone in the owner’s box who cares about winning, not solely about the bottom line.

    • Eddie

      October 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm


      While I am like many other Liverpool fans in hoping that Hicks and Gillett will sell their stake soon, I have to question some of what you said. How exactly was Rafa kept from buying the players he wanted? He spent 20 million pounds on Aquilani and 18.5 million on Glen Johnson, who is much better than Arbeloa. It seems these are the players he wanted.

      Who are the other players Rafa wanted to buy but couldn’t afford to buy?

      Don’t get me wrong, I like Rafa, and despite some of the curious things he does, I want him to remain the manager. But his record in the transfer market isn’t exactly perfect. And his way of alienating good players and hurting their confidence (Keane, Crouch) makes me wonder if some players would rather not play for him.

      Also, I don’t think Arsenal has a lot of money to spend, and it’s unfair to put them in the same category as Man U, Chelsea, and Citeh.

  5. Tyson

    October 21, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I think it’s a little unfair pinning so much on the match between Liverpool and Manchester United.

    Most of the points are picked up when playing teams that aren’t considered title contenders.

    Having said that though Liverpool could do with a moral boost which they would get this weekend if they won.

    Watching Liverpool fall apart is strange in many respects though.

    I mean Xabi Alonso was arguably Liverpools best player you can completely understand with him gone Liverpool would go through a rough patch in respect to striking.

    Whats confusing is how and why Liverpool are falling apart in the defensive department. Their Champions League match showed a weakness in the team you weren’t sure they should have exhibited.

    I’ll tell you something though. You guys are going to continue to regret losing Alonso. Go back and look at him playing last season. He was a complete and utter nightmare for defenders. He could put the ball into Torres or Gerrards feet from half way across the freaking pitch!

    The man pretty much made Liverpools season last year. You shouldn’t have let him go.

    • Zola612

      October 21, 2009 at 11:18 pm

      “Whats confusing is how and why Liverpool are falling apart in the defensive department.”

      I am not confused when I watch Carragher stumble about 2 yards behind the play, laboring and grimacing.

    • Eric

      October 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm

      Alonso wanted to leave, and put in a transfer request. Rafa burned bridges with the Barry saga, but prior to last season, he was certainly not Liverpool’s best player. Didn’t want to see him leave, but that’s world football for ya.

  6. Phil

    October 21, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I could not agree more, I am a massive Yossi fan,I am afraid if we dont play in Europe next year we may have to sell him or torres or both to cover the debt that Gilette and Hicks have put us in !

    • CA_backpacker

      October 21, 2009 at 7:03 pm

      So true. The problems start from above…with bad owners buried under debt, restricting our transfer market acquisitions and possibly forcing sale of decent talent…with a coach that for years now has made dubious decisions, and the swapping of Benayoun for Voronin is a perfect example of that. And the Reds have been shown to be quite mortal, with a defense that is slow and doesn’t mark, and an inability to get the ball to our scorers consistantly without Alonso.

      I really really hope I am just being pessimistic and the Reds turn it around. But I just don’t see it. I watch pretty much every EPL match every week (gotta love FSC + Setanta and a DVR), and it seems to me more than half of the Premiership is playing with more quality and heart than we are.

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