THERE’S a scene I love in The Simpsons where Mr Burns hosts a meeting with his highly-paid lawyers in his enormous office.
He’s been informed that Homer has a low sperm count due his daily dealings with nuclear contaminants and they need to act quickly to cheat him into signing a legal disclaimer. Burns needs their help but can’t help screaming at them first. He despises them and everything they stand for. He’s not quite able to keep a lid on his ire and vents his spleen at the mere thought of them and the power they have to harm.
Ah, here you go…
That’s pretty much how I still feel about Liverpool after Saturday.
Oh, I need them in my life and I’ll be there every step of the way when they kick off their Champions League group games against Sevilla on Wednesday night, but I’ve still got some shouting at them to get through first. Primal scream therapy, if you will. There are several faces I want to scream at before I’m ready to consider them mates again. As Burns says: “It’s my problem, I’ll deal with it.”
The most important thing about a heavy defeat is the way you recover from it. Do you stoically go into the next match or do you allow one 90-minute horror — or 53 in this case — to bleed into another and ruin that one too. If you’re professional it has to be put into a box and left to rot somewhere like all poor memories. Don’t let them beat you twice.
This seemed to be Jürgen Klopp’s view during the second half of the Manchester City game when he took off Mohamed Salah and decided that Dejan Lovren should take an even longer rest rather than using him to at least try to cover some of the holes exposed as City blazed through time and again.
Presumably, the midfield had plenty of rest too. Such was their lily-livered approach that I was amazed to see they’d bothered with shin pads for that second half, the spineless, bunch of non-tackling, limpet…
(Get it back, Karl. Come on.)
Liverpool lost both the three points and goal difference they accrued against Arsenal, but there’s nothing they can do about it now, save for hopefully learning a lesson about what to do when heads go. A defeat against Sevilla would merely compound the problem and lead to fingers being pointed.
If there’s a positive about results and performances such as Saturday’s it’s that you get to take out the frustrations against the poor saps who are next up on the fixture list. Liverpool owe Sevilla anyway for the Europa League final so the blood should already be up, but this should double the motivation to give them a pasting.
They’re not the easiest team to play, true, but I expect – nay, demand – a more clinical Reds display to deliver a performance which would, as Rob Gutmann of The Anfield Wrap would put it: “make Europe sit up and take notice.”
With this in mind, I’ve gone into the annals to see how The Reds have recovered from previous maulings.
This hasn’t been easy. There aren’t many examples of a Liverpool drubbing. There’s the 6-1 at Stoke, of course, but that was the final game of the season and the last time The Reds lost 5-0 away from home was in 1958 at Huddersfield when some lad called Bill Shankly battered Liverpool on his own soil.
Off the top of my head the biggest defeats I can remember include the 4-0 at Tottenham Hotspur in 2011 when Liverpool went down to nine men, a couple of 3-0 thumpings at Arsenal and West Brom and possibly the game at Highfield Road in 1992 when they went down 5-1 to Coventry. On that occasion they followed that up with a less than impressive run of two draws (City and Bolton) and three straight defeats (Aston Villa, Bolton and Wimbledon). Jesus, they were grim days.
That Spurs defeat is more encouraging. Liverpool left White Hart Lane slope shouldered but embarked on an 11-game unbeaten run before referee Kevin Friend beat The Reds at 1-0 Craven Cottage.
But a more interesting comparison came in January 2007 when The Reds found themselves drawn at home to Arsenal in both domestic cup competitions in a matter of days.
The FA Cup encounter came first and was the highlight of the third-round draw. Older fans may remember that this was “truth day” and began with a six-minute burst of “justice” shouts from The Kop. Mark Lawrenson, ever world-weary, grumbled “can we get on with the football now?”. The answer was no.
Liverpool didn’t and Arsenal tore them to pieces as The Reds’ attempt to retain the trophy lasted just one game. Tomas Rosicky and then Thierry Henry ran amok and put them 3-0 up before Dirk Kuyt gave the scoreline some level of respectability. Jamie Carragher being outstripped for pace by Henry for their third summed up the match perfectly. The Gunners were first to everything, Liverpool were first off the pitch. It was to be The Reds’ first home domestic defeat in 15 months since Chelsea did them 4-1. Actually, there’s another battering there.
The second game was more interesting. True, you can point out that a Liverpool side consisting of Gabriel Paletta, Danny Guthrie and Lee Peltier showed just how seriously Rafa Benitez took the tie, but Arsenal were more or less second string too. No Henry or Bergkamp this time, but a forward line of Jeremie Aliadiere and Julio Baptista. More of an even playing field, surely. Nope. Baptista got four and missed a penalty where — and I can barely believe that I’m typing these words — Aliadiere absolutely ran the show. Seriously, he was astonishing.
Liverpool were 4-1 down at half time and ended up 3-6 losers and that was only due to Steven Gerrard (a beauty) and Sami Hyypia scoring late goals.
In the space of nine days The Reds shipped nine goals to the same opposition and dived out of two competitions.
Liverpool dusted themselves down and got back to business. They went to relegation-threatened, though still tricky Watford and won 3-0. The game was all but over on 48 minutes when Peter Crouch scored his second.
Then The Reds went back to Anfield for the match with Chelsea. This was to be Rafa’s 100th game in charge and it felt like most of them were against Chelsea though he was yet to beat them in the league. Given that record many people felt like a third defeat was almost inevitable, but Jermaine Pennant’s first Liverpool goal set the tone in a 2-0 win.
A fairly drab and dispirited goalless derby followed but Rafa described Everton as “a small club” – a quote dismissed as “disgraceful” by The Guardian. Alan Stubbs claimed that the Spaniard was “bitter” as Liverpool hadn’t won the game and even Keith Wyness got involved, so I’m taking this as a win too. They were furious.
The run came to an end with defeat at St James’ Park, but the next game saw the small matter of a win at the Camp Nou where the newly-signed Alvaro Arbeloa was outstanding against Lionel Messi and his mates. Talk about putting a bad week behind you.
So it’s possible to go on a run following an atrocious act of caving in and sulking because things didn’t go your way after all. Jürgen will have to be on his mettle with the Andalusians, who beat Eibar 3-0 on Saturday, if he wants to truly put City behind him and start a fresh run of games with proper finishing, real tackles and closing down and that.
At times football is all about fear. About “what now?” when things go wrong. That was Saturday. Liverpool sat down and sulked. Wednesday is the perfect opportunity for them to stand up again.