3536: Liverpool: No More False Start
by : Paul Grech
Hit the ground running. If there was a key objective for Liverpool this season, that was surely it. Last year they started with one win in their opening six games which put them eleven points behind Chelsea by the end of September, effectively immediately killing any hopes they had of winning the title.
Given this year’s heightened expectations, that is an advantage they are unwilling to concede to anyone. Yet, in dropping two points at Sheffield United, they’re in danger of going down the same route once more.
Rather than the result the most worrying aspect of that opening fixture was the performance. Liverpool lacked the drive and ideas to cause too many problems to the United defence with the tempo being raised only when they were one goal behind. Once that happened, it became clear which was the better team: had they started off with the same sort of conviction they would probably have won.
Which makes it all the more frustrating. It is a trait that they have shown too often in the past and something which must be a worry for Benitez.
There is, obviously, some justification. The two injuries in the first half limited Liverpool’s options as otherwise Peter Crouch would certainly have been granted an opportunity to use his height as well as build on the burgeoning partnership with Craig Bellamy.
The pointless midweek international game also deprived Benitez from valuable time that could have been used to prepare for this game as well as forced a good number of his men into playing when a rest might have been a better option.
That there were so many players for whom this was the first game together also contributed. Regardless of which of these glitches was the real issue, however, Liverpool will have to improve quickly.
Traditionally, it was said that championships were won and lost during the Christmas period where the number of games made it easy for clubs to gain or drop points that couldn’t be made up for later on. Given the recent impetus for a strong squad rather than simply a good first eleven, clubs are now better equipped to deal with such periods.
It is also why there are fewer surprises in the game: the top squads have enough players to handle any injuries or individuals’ loss of form which can often have a levelling effect.
Hence the urgency even at this early stage of the season. With the fixture list drawing up travels to Everton and Chelsea within the next month, as well as a testing tie against a West Ham side eager for revenge following the lost FA Cup final, Liverpool will have to hit peak form sharpish as it little chance of their title rivals giving them time to catch up should they drop too many points.
21 August 2006