After the Liverpool vs Manchester United game you must wonder how much can go wrong. Apparently everything. Gerrard madness, a lousy ref and a lame Red performance made it extremely easy for a mediocre United to win and take charge in the top four chase. The untimely 1-2 defeat at Anfield yesterday was completely unnecessary. But we cling on to hope like a crackpot not knowing better.
Liverpool had a great chance to take command in the fight for Champions League places yesterday. But we blew it in a pitiful way and now the prospects are bleak. You can easily blame referee Martin Atkinson for the defeat. But he had just a small part in it. Okay, he was really poor, as he too often is. The red card on Steven Gerrard was right but he should also have sent-off Uniteds Phil Jones after his knee-high whack-down of Jordan Henderson. Why Atkinson just showed the yellow is beyond me. It was career-threatening tackle far more dangerous than Gerrard´s stamp. And the penalty given at the end when Emre Can and Daley Blind tussled was just ridiculous. A lot of other calls were also wrong, Atkinson is not good enough for the Premier League, simple as that.
If Jones had been sent-off then the match would have developed in quite a different way. Liverpool dominated the second half with one man less and had it been ten against ten we would at least managed a draw, that I´m sure of, and kept the CL fight wide open.
But the major fact behind the loss was our disappointing slow start to the game. Liverpool let the visitors take charge. The Reds appeared a bit tired and scared and played pedestrian and dull football. Too many times this season Liverpool has started like this and it has got to stop. Especially at Anfield it should be us on the front foot dictating the game. After United´s first goal it was uphill all the way and Gerrard´s madness didn´t help matters. The most annoying thing about the defeat is the fact that Man United didn´t play particularly well and is a decent side, at best. They were there for the taking and we let the opportunity pass us by. That´s sad because now United have got the momentum and the confidence. It should and could have been us in that position.
We´ve now learned the hard way that this Liverpool team has a long way to go before being able to dominate these kind of games. Stand-in captain Jordan Henderson hasn´t got the authority, yet, to boss matches of this gravity. He went missing yesterday, as was Philippe Coutinho. They are both fine footballers but are still not the go-to-guys when the going gets tough and the stakes are high. They need to improve on this if we are to have any chance in the top four battle. It´s eight games to go so all is not lost. But we got a real dent in our smooth running machine, it must be mended promptly.
Here are my ratings for the Reds who participated in the 30th league match of the season (on a scale from 1 to 10):
GK Simon Mignolet 4.
No apparent mistakes but could have done better to keep out the first goal.
RB Emre Can 3.
Battled hard but is sometimes defending naively. Few attacking actions.
CB Martin Skrtel 5.
Took care of business in a determined way but was out of position once or twice.
LB Mamadou Sakho 6.
Won every duel and didn´t give the ball away. Best Red on the day.
RWB Raheem Sterling 3.
Isn´t cut out for wingback role and was completely ineffective.
CM Joe Allen 5.
Passed the ball fairly well but also lost possession a few times.
CM Jordan Henderson 2.
Didn´t show the leadership qualities required in this kind of match. Has a lot to learn.
LWB Alberto Moreno 1.
Weak in defence and distributed the ball badly.
RF Adam Lallana 2.
Seemed lost and couldn´t make any impact.
CF Daniel Sturridge 4.
Isolated in the front line but created some chances and scored from a difficult angle.
LF Philippe Coutinho 2.
Almost invisible in the first half and improved just marginally in the second.
CM Steven Gerrard 1. (Replaced Adam Lallana after 45 mins).
A frenzied and stupid action destroyed his last game against Man United.
CF Mario Balotelli 1. (Replaced Alberto Moreno after 66 mins).
Had almost half an hour to do something but didn´t.
The hope of top four has diminshed dramatically and the only thing to salvage the situation is a win in our next league game, the one against Arsenal at Emirates on the 4th of April. A tough proposition indeed but if we draw or lose then we are six or nine points behind Arsenal and probably eight points behind Manchester United and and then it´s game over in the Champions League quest. So there is still a glimmer of hope but now it´s all down to one utterly hard away game. It must end in a Red victory so we can continue to believe that:
We Go Again.