SUNDAY 20th, 1646: Three quick peeps from the referee call time on a first half Liverpool have shaded. The sort of first half where, if a team has been playing well for a few weeks, you settle down for half time expecting the job to be done second half.
Liverpool haven’t been playing well. And so therefore you don’t settle down. You worry.
The fluency hadn’t quite been there. Back threes mean your players need to think more. Towards the end of the half James Milner picks the ball up left wing, right in front of where I was in the ground. Alberto Moreno has tucked in and Milner needs Mamadou Sakho to overlap. That run stretches Norwich. Sakho, completely understandably, doesn’t. He’s a centre half for the love of god. Liverpool go back and start again, unable to do the final bit of stretching of Norwich that could have elicited a chance.
Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge show signs throughout the half but can’t quite fashion a chance for one another — Lucas Leiva setting up Sturridge with a good ball for the half’s best chance.
Other than that, with the clear exception of the abject Milner, Liverpool’s 11 are all playing quite well. No-one punching the turf, no-one touching the sky. Norwich are a tidy outfit who look the sort of side who will win the games they should, draw the games they should and lose the games they should on the road to a creditable 14th-placed finish.
Obviously you tend to think every game comes down to what Liverpool do. But this one even more so. Should they continue to probe, calmly, they’ll find the quality they need – two players doing something very good – to score the opening goal and the game should remain theirs from that point. Should they continue to defend responsibly they’ll keep Norwich at bay.
There hasn’t been enough of either across 90 minutes this season to rest easy. Quite the opposite. And so you don’t. You worry.
Sunday 20th, 1752: You were right to worry. Liverpool played well on balance. They created enough to win the game and were good enough on the whole. But they didn’t win the game, and in the key moments they weren’t quite good enough. Watching this Liverpool side, even when they play well, they manage to fail in key moments.
They got ahead in the game. This here is the issue. Better than the opposition, they were 1-0 up. That is the point at which failure shouldn’t be an option. The bottom 10 home and away are the purpose of the enterprise and yet Liverpool allow pressure to fall onto them in a quietly daft way and concede with the inevitable corner of doom.
Heads go down but they are then picked back up. These lads aren’t letting anyone down in terms of effort or application. But they are in terms of hope. The goal from the corner felt inevitable. The fruitless banging on the door repetitive. The toiling exhausting.
The ground was broadly supportive, as they will be of footballers playing well and having a go. The crowd want to see Liverpool win and there was little of the toxicity there has been in the ground in 2004 and 2010 x2.
If you watch a football match and some aspects of it are positive then they need pointing out. Liverpool demonstrated fluency at times in the second half and fashioned the chances to win the game. Sakho, Moreno and Can all very much impressed. Sturridge will get back to himself. Danny Ings looks “a Liverpool player” — hosanna to the highest for that.
However, football matches never take place in a vacuum. Had there been a managerial change in the summer and these exact performances and results were coming from a new incumbent then you would be intrigued as to where it goes next. Intrigued to see what we do against Villa, intrigued to see what this manager gets from some of those young lads against Carlisle after the Bordeaux result and performance.
You aren’t intrigued though.
The manager has been here for coming on for four years and while his players are sometimes bright and playing well, which they weren’t at the end of Houllier, and while he’s looking for new ideas and probing, unlike the end of Dalglish, he hangs above the same abyss they fell through. Because of key moments. There is only so much a manager can do about key moments but an aggregate of them going against a manager can only lead to the abyss.
In the 20 months or so this column has existed it has often been stated that all plots lead to death. Very few managers at the highest level set their own terms of departure. Liverpool managers always used to. Since Abramovich arrived in England only Ferguson has, though you have to believe Wenger will. This is modern football — all plots lead to death.
When they sang and wrote and said Houllier was getting sacked in the morning, it was sad because the man had nearly died for the club. When they sang and wrote and said Dalglish was getting sacked in the morning it was sad because more than anyone else living he was the club. When they sang and wrote and said Benitez was getting sacked in the morning it was infuriating because he had fought for the soul of the club and I will see you dead with my fists and my feet and never ever really forgive you for singing, writing and saying it.
And now for Brendan Rodgers it is sad because he tried to high wire the club to where it needs to be with youth and exuberance. But there is little less attractive than the prematurely aged. The 21-year-old past their peak. Husk like. Dance moves just off. Perpetually hungover from the glorious nights out; the best night out of their life had. It’s as sad for what it says about us as what it says about him. It’s as sad because it is the latest proof that this could just be too hard. The hardest job in club football vampirically drains another victim, leaving them bloodless, husk like.
The manager has done the Lazarus act before. But the issue around last season’s Lazarus act is what do you do when Lazarus mooches back to the walk-in centre complaining of having a bit of a temperature, before being rushed to triage and slapped back on life support.
If Lazarus then, yet again, pulls out his catheter, leaps off the bed and starts playing mustard five-a-side then you’d be reluctant to give the bed away. You’d keep an eye on him. That Lazarus, you’d say, always on his last legs.
It is to this backdrop that the players play and work, stinting here and there. One of the reason all plots lead to death is that there has to be a resolution and right now.
Liverpool can’t become a ghost story.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo