It was foolish of me to think I could just sit down and pound out a quick match preview for tomorrow’s meeting with Queens Park Rangers wasn’t it? The entire post was outlined and I even had a witty closing line to cap the whole thing off — then I saw the news that Daniel Sturridge was injured again.
The tone of this just drastically changed. I’ll re-iterate the fact before we go any further that one man does not a team make, but there’s no denying the mental lift that comes along with having arguably your most potent attacking threat on the verge of a return from a long injury lay-off. Likewise, there’s no denying the inevitable plunge in morale when that same player, already out for six weeks after being injured with the national team, faces a setback on the eve of the match.
By this point last season, we had nothing but the Premier League to focus on until the FA Cup rolled around in the New Year. Listening to opposition managers chalk up our immense league form to a lack of European football sounded more like sour grapes than a fair analysis at the time, but we’re starting to remember how difficult it is to play two matches a week.
Woe is not us and there’s no pity on offer — top clubs play in the Champions League and they cope with it week in and week out. Following Wednesday’s disappointment in the Champions League, one would think that Liverpool will be well motivated to bounce back when West Bromwich Albion visit Anfield later today, and though that may very well be the case, there’s been precious little time to shift our focus and prepare for the inevitable challenge the Baggies always pose.
As much as I hate to admit it, you can roll the dice on the first Merseyside Derby of the season. With both Liverpool and Everton playing far below standards, no one knows what’s going to happen.
The old adage that the form book goes out the window for fixtures like this is just something that’s said by people like me to liven up the occasion; now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the team that’s in the better form going into the match usually comes out on top, no? Well, if you want to use that as a barometer, the Reds — having barely scraped by Championship side Middlesbrough in the League Cup on Tuesday — hold a slight edge over their neighbours who were knocked out of the same competition by Swansea City. If there is an edge to be had, it’s being held on to by fingernails alone.
It’s not time to panic quite yet. As unnerving as last weekends 1-0 reversal at the hands of Aston Villa was, it’s easy to forget that it’s still early days. This time last season, as pointed out by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, we were still trying to find our stride. The personal may have changed somewhat, but we’re very much in the same pattern at this stage last year.
Saying we needed to get back on track or other such clichés after the loss to Manchester City at the end of August was a bit premature; approaching the end of September though, it’s not too wide of the mark. Losing to the reigning champions is one thing, but going down to a team like the Villains, with no disrespect to them of course, is always going to require a response no matter where you are in the season — whether a certain Northern Irishman wants to admit it or not.
While it’s nice that the international break is over and we can get back to proper football again, Aston Villa’s trip to Anfield couldn’t have come at a worse time for Liverpool.
Well, I suppose things could always get worse, but when you couple the Reds poor home record against the Villains with their rash of injuries, it’s just bad timing all around. Paul Lambert’s side are unbeaten in their last three matches in front of the Kop and blazed to a 2-0 lead during their last visit to Merseyside. That their hosts were able to pull a pair back to share the spoils is of course a troubling side-note, but the customary shivers and shakes before running out at Anfield won’t be quite as prevalent this time around — there’s a real belief about this side now.