What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
We all saw that shameful loss to Besiktas on Thursday. We all know there was no way that match should have come down to penalty kicks, but we all saw it coming after the Turkish club climbed off the mat in Istanbul. Liverpudlians love to wax fondly over the city formerly known as Constantinople; it was the site of Liverpool’s most recent Champions League title capture at the hands of AC Milan. Perhaps not so ironically, it is that same city that saw the Reds limp away from Turkey like the British Army did from Gallipoli a century earlier.
After last season’s triumphant march back to the top-flight European competition, and after coming within two points of Liverpool’s first Premier League championship and first top-league domestic title in nearly 25 years, there were such big expectations for this year, both in England and Europe. Needless to say, a big part of those dreams died Thursday at the hands of Besiktas. Instead of a shot at the top of English football, Liverpool finds a trip back to the Champions League seriously in question; settling for the Europa League seems more likely, while a Premier League title looks to be out of the question entirely.
So, what went wrong at Anfield? While they may be tough to swallow, the past 12 months have shown us 6 keys to the failure of the Reds to live up the expectations we all had. You may find pouring a stiff drink helpful for digesting the following ugly realities.
6) Luis Suarez
I was on vacation, drinking in my room at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans while watching last year’s World Cup. Specifically, I was in that room when the “bite heard round the world” made me spit my drink across that room. I knew when the Uruguayan uber-scorer locked his chomps into Italian defender Giorgio Chellini, his Merseyside days were over.
Granted, Suarez is undeniably one of the top players on the planet, but he’s also a head case. That meant a team trying to reclaim it’s former glory simply couldn’t move forward waiting for the Suarez hand-grenade to blow up in their face. The Chellini incident in Brazil wasn’t the first Suarez incident, and it won’t be the last. In fact, there were again biting allegations against the now-Barcelona striker in last month’s Champions League tilt against Manchester City.
Despite that, Liverpool has yet to find a way to replace Suarez’ 30+ Premier League goals from last year. The idea that a Daniel Sturridge-Mario Balotelli combination could do it hasn’t happened.
5) The Defense Sucks
With Suarez gone, the Liverpool attack has been rendered softer than overcooked pasta and Sean Connery without his Viagra combined. But what that also means is that unlike last year when the Reds could keep the ball in the opponent’s end, there’s more pressure on the Liverpool defenders.
That also means I’m done listening to this twaddle about Martin Skrtel being one of the premier defenders in football. The second half Thursday in Turkey was the last straw. I’m sooooooo done watching Skrtel’s idea of clearing a corner kick meaning to give the ball to a striker six feet in front of him. Am I the only one who noticed the only reason another Skrtel give-away didn’t let Besiktas win in regulation was the shot he allowed hit the crossbar?
As far as the goal-tending is concerned, I was never a big Pepe Reina fan, but Simon Mignolet makes me yearn for the consistency of the Reina days.
4) Trophy Thirst
Let’s face it…as Liverpool fans, we were all sucked into the idea of winning a trophy for the first time in years. To put this in terms American sports fans will understand, it’s the same thing that is going to happen in Los Angeles when the Lakers haven’t won anything in ten years. As previously mentioned, Liverpool hasn’t won a domestic league title since 1990, they haven’t won the Europa League since 2001, or the Champions League since 2005.
Despite that, Liverpool is the most decorated club in all of English football, and once they were bounced from the Champions League to Europa this year, they were the gambler’s darling to capture their sixth Europa League title.
Instead of winning trophies, Liverpool need to focus on getting back to the style of football that made them great. Do that, and the trophies will follow…
3) Not Enough Chances To Develop Young Talent
This is the real benefit of qualifying for international competition; you get more chances to expose your young talent to game situations. Liverpool is stocked with just such talent; players like Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, and Suso headline a cast of young blood, but they are not yet to the stage where they are ready for top-flight league competition. Markovic is the most ready, but even he would benefit from some heavy playing time in a European competition. It’s much better for an English team to give young players their “trial by fire” against clubs like Viktoria Plzen or Partizan Belgrade in the group stages, then against the next level sides like Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, or Borussia Mogdengladbach rather than to toss them immediately into the domestic chum-wars against the likes of Manchester City or Chelsea.
With the early exit from Europa, Liverpool now only has League Cup and FA Cup fixtures to complement the Premier League matches, which will severely hamper Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ proclivity for honing the skills of youngsters in such matches. That strategy worked wonders last year with guys like Raheem Sterling, and those chances for the immediate future just became very limited.
I don’t know why, but everybody in Merseyside seemed to fall in love with the idea of a Liverpool-Everton meeting in a European competition. Obviously, the fantasy match occurs in the Champions League, but that doesn’t seem likely in the near future. Let’s be honest, neither club right now looks like one that could go deep in the top European competition. If it were going to happen, it would likely be in Europa, and this year offered a damn good shot at that…well, until Thursday anyway. Once Everton cleared their Europa League group, the Merseyside world seemed to be waiting for the draw matching their two sides. Everybody forgot for that to happen, both teams would need to advance.
1) Looking at Europa as the Only Way to Qualify for the Champions League
Now that the Europa League champion gets an automatic bid into the next season’s Champions League, Liverpool saw that as the route they needed to take to get back to the the top European competition.
Time for some more hard honesty…that was probably true. Although the Reds have cleaned up their somewhat sloppy Premier League play of late (yesterday’s victory over Man City certainly helped); Liverpool hasn’t lost a Premier League match since a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford in December. The remainder of the Reds schedule features a visit to Anfield by Man U, followed by away matches at Swansea, Arsenal, and Chelsea. Making a “Top Four” finish likely requires winning two, if not three of those four mentioned matches. It also means not dropping any points against bottom-halfers like Burnley, West Brom, and Queens’ Park Rangers.
That seems like a tall order for a team that played as poorly as Liverpool in the second half and extra time against Besiktas, but it seems possible for the side that handled Man City at Anfield yesterday.
Possible. Not likely…possible.