Yesterday’s 2-1 loss to Besiktas in Istanbul was unacceptable. It was not the triumphant return to Turkey they hoped for. Liverpool, remarkably for a team that really needed a win against a much smaller squad, showed up with no respect for their opponents. And it showed. Liverpool seemed comfortable letting Besiktas have possession at the top of the 18-yard box, they showed no real creativity in front of goal, no one was moving off the ball and it decayed into long balls, forced passes and counter-attacks that eventually saw them giving up the second goal.
Was Liverpool the better team? No. They lost. Statistically, yes, they were better. Statistics, as they always do, and which Liverpool seems so content to rely upon nowadays, show that Liverpool out shot Besiktas by an amount better tallied on an abacus. But Besiktas had two in the net and Liverpool one.
Quite frankly, I’m tired of the staid rhetoric at this point in Liverpool’s season. It’s the language of a team that is struggling for something of any real substance to point to. A team that is on top of its game doesn’t need to highlight marginal aspects of comparison, and rely on the “we still haven’t lost in the league” argument, or “the only quality opposition shot on net was Sami Hyppia’s own goal” speak. It all smacks of mediocrity.
We aren’t talking about Crewe Alexandra here (and no disrespect to that mob) we’re talking about Liverpool. The team that’s taken down the best in Europe five times. The team that has one of the best domestic records in England. The team that shouldn’t have to focus on statistics and rationalizations that see them currently bottom of their group in Europe (in what is arguably one of the “easiest” pools) and in fourth spot at home.
The thing about football is you are only as good as your last season. And previous successes or failures are a cruel mistress. Winning holds you to a higher standard. Losing holds you to a higher standard. And there is the fans’ selective memory too. So when you call attention – ala Mr. Carragher – to what happened in ‘04/‘05 in Olympiacos and the potential to resurrect a competition like the Champions League from the dead, you’d better be able to provide.
There is absolutely no doubt that Liverpool can do it, it is just a question of will they do it. Let just hope that the Besiktas outing was not the answer to that question. Liverpool has the personnel, the manager and the storied past, they just don’t seem to have the desire or the wherewithal to put it together in one package this year.
Now, in Europe, Liverpool has no place to hide. And the same goes for the domestic league. They have to win games. You can’t rely on other big teams faltering. That is the mentality of a team that might be in fourth spot for quite a while. If you are good enough and – more importantly – self-confident enough, then it is you that is the team being chased.
And don’t point to May either. We live in an age where instant results reign. It is a matter of the here and now that needs to be addressed. Because if getting better doesn’t happen in the now, the later will be pretty bleak. There are a lot of games between here and May that if are played in the current fashion might not herald a darling month of May.
What is most dismaying though, beyond all the talk, the hype, the parry and thrust in the media, what really stands out is that Liverpool is not an entertaining team to watch. And that pains me. It’s not the rotation policy, it’s not the new signings, it’s not even because Paco left. We have become a frustrating team to watch. As a fan, you shouldn’t be hoping for just enough to get by. You don’t buy a ticket to see the minimum effort to do what is needed. That is not what Liverpool does. Or at least they didn’t.
Don’t mind me, I’m just an cynical optimist. I believe that it is tough to keep a team of Liverpool’s character and quality down for too long. As it always will, it comes down to the lads on the pitch taking it up more than one notch. But for the managers and front office alike, in lieu of saying something that aatempts to deflect how poorly things are going, don’t say anything at all. Instead of empty words in the media room, let the bell of performance peal so that all can listen and smile.