WIN or die, the banner read before kick off. Win or die.
Liverpool, endlessly contrary, chose neither. They come away from Moscow the better side but not the winning side; they come away from Moscow a side that has failed to win but one unlikely to die in the Champions League before Christmas.
There’s a lesson here, possibly for us but by God it feels like it is a lesson for them. The lesson should be how hard it is to win football matches at times and how easy it is to die, to lose, to be and feel finished even when you are not.
I could talk endlessly about the passage of play which leads to the freekick that leads to the Moscow goal. Endlessly about chewing it in midfield, about blind alleys and crazy decision making. But the Liverpool player in question is just trying to play, doing his best with the instructions he has been given. Doing his best to win and not die.
He is wrong. He is most definitely wrong.
But he will not accept not a little death. No small deaths for Liverpool. Not accepting small deaths led to Liverpool being forced to take a medium-sized one.
I want Liverpool teams to play and play. To desire and demand. To be ambitious. To want to live up to our songs and demands. But occasionally that involves regrouping and taking a backwards step to take one 500 miles forwards and then possibly 500 more.
Everything Liverpool do should be about being the best versions of themselves and yet. And yet. At some point we need to collectively swallow being the best version of ourselves is not possible again and again, and again, and again. At some point we need to just take what we have and have another look.
Liverpool, the magnificent idealists. Liverpool, the wastrels.
The essence of the game is that Liverpool have more than enough to leave Moscow not just with all the points but with all the points and then some. Liverpool utterly outclassed their opposition this evening and demonstrated a superiority which should have led to taking the group away. But they weren’t able to do so and as such it becomes as much a matter for individuals as for their manager but the manager doesn’t escape without question.
Yet again Liverpool were anxious and pulling at their efforts, yet again The Reds were trying to force the issue. At some stage we need to wonder whether the madness is ours or theirs. I am usually more than happy to remember our role in all of this but tonight was a game played away from home and yet again Liverpool’s supposedly cooler than thou footballers found themselves anything but.
They love you Liverpool they do. Don’t always presume this is a good thing. It’s Phil Coutinho who gets everything right in front of the sticks, the man with nothing to prove after the weekend, the man who wants to impress beyond even the worldwide diaspora.
There was a rash of bad days at the office, bad days that remind you it isn’t an office but a football ground. Yet Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Mo Salah should all be on flights home having a variation on a think. These lads love Liverpool but they should also love the idea of the winner and it was lacking this evening. Another game Liverpool should have won disappears from the wing mirrors. The chances aren’t endless.
Instead we’re left again cursing very poor goalkeeping while acknowledging that Liverpool defended well as a collective and in two or three cases splendidly as individuals. Moscow didn’t get near our goal apart from those and that set piece(s), being left taking time out of a home game. Jordan Henderson’s all round contribution matched that of Saturday evening and Dejan Lovren loved the contest and won it at every opportunity.
Liverpool didn’t though and that is what matters. Instead they are left needing to produce the goods. I suspect they will but seeing them fail to demonstrate how good they are grows tiring.
This thing of ours — we want Liverpool to be BY FAR the greatest team. BY FAR. BY FAR is what it might take this season but BY FAR is the hardest. Start with just being the greatest team, lads. Then we can work on the BY FAR.
Liverpool, the nuts and bolts won’t tighten themselves. Come on, lads.