Monday, March 02, 2009

Same Old Liverpool – Heights of Bernabeu to Depths of Riverside

Middlesbrough 2 (Alonso OG 31, Tuncay 63)
Liverpool 0

After a comprehensive and important 1-0 victory over the might of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, you would’ve thought that Liverpool would kick into gear and fired up for the Middlesbrough game.

After all, with Man Utd. involved in the League Cup final this Sunday, it is a golden opportunity for Liverpool to cut their rival’s lead at the top to 4 points with a win.

Yet the same old Liverpool syndrome hit again and a 2-0 defeat at the Riverside left Liverpool’s title hope in absolute shambles.

Never a happy hunting ground for the Reds, ‘Boro looked much more interested and fired up in the game than their counterparts. Their fighting spirit paid off, together with fresher legs and resolute defending. The visitors never had a chance and were simply swept away.

How ironic, from the heights of defeating a giant at the glamorous Santiago Bernabeu to being reduced to a pulp at the Midlands. It all happened within 3 short days and it summed up the inconsistencies and shortcomings that plagued Liverpool.

With Fernando Torres out with an ankle injury, Liverpool had to rely on Steven Gerrard for inspirations while Nabil El Zhar was given a rare start. It was a total reshuffle from the victory in Madrid as Benitez might’ve sensed tiredness in his squad.

The new-looked team started the game brightly with several chances but their profligacy was apparent. And in a world of football, punishment for wastefulness is often cruel.

Just ask Xabi Alonso. He performed in his high standards in midweek but was brought back down to earth through an own goal. A ‘Boro corner was deflected off the Spanish midfielder and the home side took the lead.

You would expect Liverpool to hit back like they always did throughout the 08/09 season. Comebacks were a norm and conceding first was not a rare sight. But without the firepower of Fernando Torres and adding to the fact that there were tired players on the pitch, they failed to put up any sort of fight thereafter.

El Zhar did have a fantastic opportunity to put them back on level terms but the inexperience of the Moroccan winger showed through when his shot went high and wide when it was easier to score.

It definitely did the damage psychologically for both the player and the team.

With Liverpool still hardly out of their first gear, Middlesbrough was able to hit the sucker punch which KO-ed the visitors as Sanli Tuncay was on hand to slot home from a Gary O’Neil cutback.

Worse was yet to come for Liverpool as Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, the 2 leading figure of the team, were then withdrawn with the latter suffering from cramps.

It really wasn’t meant to be their day.

Despite the introduction of the midweek hero, Yossi Benayoun, they just couldn’t find the chink in the armour of Gareth Southgate’s men. And all we can say are they only have themselves to blame.

It surely brings about the déjà vu feeling to the Liverpool fans, the highs and lows of supporting a rollercoaster team. Sometimes we have to wonder how they could come up with 2 performances that are as further apart as the east is to the west.

The utter inconsistency is hurting Liverpool big time. Is it a problem with the mentality of the team? Or is it Rafa Benitez still has yet to come to terms with the hustle and bustle of English football? I for one have no answer to that. It’s just puzzling.

And as long this puzzle is unsolved, I don’t think Liverpool could possibly lift their long awaited 19th title. This can’t go on for long and Benitez knows that. These Jekyll and Hyde performances will only put further question mark on Benitez’s management.

And as we are saying this, United already have a brand new sparkling Carling Cup in their cabinet and the 18th league title probably already in their bags. How would Rafa respond to this?

Many changes are needed and it needs to be addressed soon.

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