Three days ago it couldn't have gotten any worse for Liverpool. Torres tears his knee and Gerrard re-aggravates his hamstring. Benayoun gets injured as well just to complete a long awaited exhale out of the FA Cup - their last chance at silverware mind you. It's January.
Currently, their official goal is 4th place in the Premiership and some might say (hint: me) that's been their goal for 4 weeks now. I was there last year with Arsenal, I know a 4th place team when I see it. Enter Stoke City. It's the 8am start so I can't say with 100% certainty, but Liverpool come out frantic... in a good way. That is to say they sprint hard after every ball, challenge every header and have a certain amount of positive flail about them. Rafa and his squad are leaving no doubt that they want this game. There's just one problem, they're not any good.
To be sure, a Liverpool side with a healthy Torres and Gerrard are capable of beating any team any time. But this particular Liverpool side, with Ngog and Kuyt up top followed by Degen, Aurelio, Mascherano and Lucas in the midfield are simply awful. Aquilani and Maxi-gol may be the answer they are looking for, but not yet, and not today.
The first half ends with only one incident of note, and that's a half-dive by Lucas in the box. He sees yellow for his troubles. That insufferable drunk Tommy Smythe says that it's clearly a penalty and Adrian Healey ignores him. It wasn't a penalty, not even close, but I mention it because it's the moment when Liverpool calm down. They realize their energy needs to manifest itself in a controlled way if they're to take three points because the game hitherto screams nil-nil.
Liverpool get their goal, it's the 55th minute, and the camera immediately shows Rafa Benitez gesticulating what I interpret to mean, "tighten up back there guys." I'm not going to call it a mistake because it's his only option. When your only chance on goal is one where Kyrgiakos makes William Gallas look like David Trezeguet, packing it in for 30 minutes to hold onto a 1-goal lead is the correct/only choice. If you didn't understand the previous sentence, don't be alarmed, Flesh Kincaid rated it at a 15.37 grade level.
The only flaw in Rafa's plan is that Liverpool aren't accustomed to absorbing pressure when 3 points are on the line. Arsenal can't do this either and again, I know a shaky back-line when I see it. So Huth scores in the 90th minute, it's now 1-1, and before the replays have finished my laptop is started up and I'm looking up the definition of a Greek Tragedy for a good quote.
"[Greek] tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that paradoxically offers its audience pleasure."
I finish reading the quote and just then, Insua whips in a lovely cross and Dirk Kuyt's diving header bounces off the turf, off the side-bar and away from any further harm.
"Yep," I think, smiling as the whistle blows.
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.