Headed into the October international break, and the majority of Liverpool fans are thinking negatively about the prospects of the 2014-15 season. It’s true that the boys have laid a few eggs and haven’t gotten the results supporters have come to expect, but when you look at the bigger picture I am here to tell you that it’s not all that bad. Contrary to popular opinion, the sky isn’t falling just yet. Before the season started I established three clear objectives: (1) advance out of the group stage in Champion’s League, (2) finish in the top four of the BPL, and (3) compete for one of the Cups. I’m here to reassure everyone that all three goals are clearly still in play.
The past few weeks have proven to be more of a difficult run than originally expected. With a gravely unkind September international break that saw injuries to Daniel Sturridge, Joe Allen and Emre Can, the squad clearly underperformed with losses at home to Aston Villa, at West Ham and at Basel in the Champions League. But the team had a strong rebound at home to West Brom to get their top 4 ambitions back on track in the Premiership. We still have over 80% of the Premiership fixtures to be played, and the Reds sit only a point out of the top four (where third place is currently occupied by a Southampton team we’ve already defeated). You’ll forgive me if I haven’t buried their chances to make a Champions League return just yet.
I watched the Basel loss amongst the LFC Atlanta crowd in Meehan’s and I overheard some rumblings that the Reds lost their best chance to advance out of the group stage with the disappointing 1-0 loss in Switzerland. I also believed that Liverpool lost out on a great opportunity with their poor set piece defending, but people need to relax and remember that there is still 360 minutes of Champions League football for LFC to play. We only need to finish second to advance, and that is still a very real possibility. If you’re susceptible to being amongst the majority of supporters and live too much in the present, then it’s only going to get worse. Real Madrid sits atop the standings of Group B with the maximum possible six points. They are one of the most talented squads in all of professional football, so that is to be expected. They were always expected to win our group. The key is beating out the Swiss champs for second place if we want to advance. Liverpool and Basel are in a relative deadlock for second place with three points each. The problem lies in the schedule where the next two matches are a “home-and-away” setup on October 22 and November 4. Liverpool face Spanish giants Real Madrid while Basel get to play Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets.
If you were to believe the bookmakers, then one would expect Liverpool to get nothing in the next two matches while Basel would get six points against the Bulgarians. Let’s assume that happens. Real Madrid would be sitting pretty with 12 points in the standings, while Basel would have 9 and Liverpool still at 3. Real Madrid will want to win the group to get a top seed going into the knockout stage, and that will still be in question for their November 26th match at Basel. They’ll be playing to win, and they most likely will. Meanwhile, Liverpool travel to Bulgaria for a hopeful win setting the stage for a final battle royale at Anfield against Basel. If the Reds were to score the victory, then they’d be tied with Basel on 9 points for second place and it would go down to goal difference. Does anyone remember the last time Liverpool won the Champions League? Who could forget the incredible result in Istanbul in 2005? True supporters will remind you that the Reds needed to beat Olympiacos by a clear two-goal margin in their final group stage just to advance to the knockout stage in that tournament. That game was at Anfield, and Stevie Gerrard score a screamer to send the Reds to the next stage (“What a hit, son!!!”). That fateful match against the Greeks was played on December 8, 2004. I’m not one to play up storyline scripts, but let me remind you that our final group stage game against Basel will be played at Anfield exactly ten years plus one day after one of the greatest results that Anfield has ever seen. But there’s even better news… all of this will only matter if the next two results go as expected. If Liverpool were to get any result against Real Madrid or if that gutsy Ludogorets team can snag a result against Basel, then it all goes to the good for LFC. The point I am trying to make here is the Reds are still alive and kicking in the Champions League competition… even if we don’t get any points against Real Madrid and Basel defeat Ludogorets in the next two games. Don’t lose faith now.
As we sit and wait out the next few weeks of the international break, we can relax a little knowing that Daniel Sturridge was still not fit enough for an England call-up against San Marino or Estonia. Call me a skeptic, but I’m guessing that the physio staff at Melwood were more than aware of the situation and that was enough to scare off old Woy Hodgson. Well played, boys. Additionally, Mario Balotelli was once again spurned by the Italians and will be staying on Merseyside during the break. I do worry about the number of minutes that Raheem Sterling has been accumulating this season and it’s only going to get worse with England, but I trust that Brendan Rodgers will be able to manage that in the short term. I’m not really worried about Jordan Henderson because his stamina is reminding me of Dirk Kuyt who reminded me of the Energizer bunny. He’ll take a licking and I expect him to keep on ticking. There are other players off to represent their countries, as Simon Mignolet appears to be ready to get the start for Belgium against Andorra. But are you really worried about that? We had a plethora of injuries in the last cycle, and many of these players are getting back to fitness. Glen Johnson played in the last match, Emre Can is reportedly close to a return as well. I expect Jon Flanagan to make a glorious return as well as Joe Allen. Coutinho was called to the Brazilian squad for their friendlies against Argentina and Japan, but I can’t think that’s a bad thing and can’t expect him to log a lot of minutes in those matches. You can worry about the likes of Lovren, Skrtel, and Sakho playing in the upcoming Euro qualifiers, but at least Moreno and Manquillo were left off the Spanish roster. In summary, I believe that this current international break should be kinder than the previous one.
Yes it’s true that we have another gauntlet to negotiate with seven more games to play in 20 days after this break: at QPR, Real Madrid (CL), Hull, Swansea (League Cup), at Newcastle, at Real Madrid (CL), and Chelsea. But would you rather be like Manchester United and have no European football and have been eliminated in the League Cup to MK Dons? I didn’t think so. If the sky is falling anywhere, it’s closer to Old Trafford than anywhere else. They have spent gazillion dollars in the summer and have no meaningful football to play for a long time. Hell, they even have a legend coming out and calling their fans “phonies.” They have an aging manager whose answer to every problem appears to be spending more money on an overrated Dutch player. “Who the f#$@ are Man United?” I sing and it is as applicable now as it was when I was preaching #MoyesIn a year ago. I’ll admit that it will be tough for Liverpool to recreate the title run from a year ago, but I’ll remind you that they’ve done it before so you know they can do it again. I’m here to tell you that the situation now much better than you probably think it is. That sky isn’t falling. It’s just hovering for the moment, so try to keep the faith. Just over a week remains until #WeGoAgain. Come on the Reds!!!