By David Lynch at Anfield
Liverpool fans are renowned for their long memories.
The songs which ring around Anfield on matchday contain lyrics dedicated to past glories, whilst ‘the Liverpool way’, an unquantifiable guide to how the club as a whole should conduct itself which has been passed down through the generations, still reigns.
For that reason, Reds supporters do not need constant reminders of where they are and what they possess now. But they have so often been handed them on a regular basis this season, and in cruel fashion.
Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa was the latest in a long line of such harsh reality checks, as Christian Benteke hammered home the game-changing nature of boasting an in-form centre-forward.
The Belgian netted two excellent goals and provided a classy assist against a Reds team haunted by their trademark wastefulness and poor decision making in front of an expectant home crowd.
His performance encapsulated the unnecessary snobbery and criminal short-sightedness shown by Brendan Rodgers in jettisoning Andy Carroll without hesitation upon arriving at the club in the summer. Benteke was so much more than a target, showcasing his ability to bring others into play and featuring heavily in some lightning counterattacking moves – the type which Liverpool will have looked upon enviously.
Mistakes made much further back than last summer were also on show, as the ineffective but highly-waged Joe Cole arrived at half-time before proving why he looked an unlikely saviour. That the 30-year-old is being relied to contribute says it all; Liverpool use a system which features three attackers but they currently have very few of genuine quality.
Luis Suarez’s frustration at going it alone told against the Villans as he picked up a yellow card and no goals, whilst Steven Gerrard did little to quiet suggestions that he is a busted flush as an all-action attacker. Contract rebel Raheem Sterling also continued his concerning recent dip, with the rigours of the Premier League beginning to tell on an 18-year-old whose adrenaline supplies are running low.
There is a misplaced hope amongst fans that these attacking problems can be solved in January with a wave of FSG’s chequebook. Admittedly, Tom Ince’s return to the club he left for free is a near certainty as things stand and he is likely to be joined by Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge when the window opens.
But these are promising young players who offer the opportunity of a return on investment even should they fail, they are far from a cure for all of Liverpool’s ills. Ince must make a step up to scoring in a league above the one in which he currently plies his trade whilst Sturridge must eradicate the inconsistency which has typified his Premier League career.
Such evolution requires time, and there is a sense around the club that Liverpool fans believe they have suffered enough heartache already without being forced to show yet more patience.
But they have little choice. It is currently incredibly difficult to see how the Merseyside club can pull themselves out of this malaise without a sudden burst of investment or an arduous, long-term adherence to a sensible model.
The latter is a path recently travelled by Tottenham, who find themselves a better bet for Champions League qualification than the once immovable Reds largely thanks to success built on intelligent buys and patience. There were no guarantees it would work for Spurs but they bravely stuck to their philosophy and are now reaping the rewards, Liverpool fans will do well to take that in. In fact, they have little alternative.
It is unlikely that Rodgers will be shielded from criticism during this process, but FSG must show the strength to stick by a man who has already proved his tactical acumen will be a dangerous weapon when allied to a capable squad. That said, stocking that armoury will be a difficult, time-consuming process which is likely to suffer blows such as the departure of Suarez and the retirement of Gerrard such is its length.
During this period of rebuilding, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ may well take on an unfamiliar, melancholy tone, as hope of an oft-vaunted ‘golden sky’ is finally met with the cynicism it deserves.
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