Guarding Against Complacency

Posted by Rushian on March 21, 2007, 04:50:20 PM

As we approach the final months of the 2006-2007 season, it is more than pleasing that we still have something mouth watering to anticipate in the upcoming tie with PSV Eindhoven.

In truth our push for the league has long since diminished and even after having easily beaten Chelsea towards the end of January, it was by then already too distant if we are being honest with ourselves.

When that Premiership ambition was well and truly dashed for yet another season by Everton and Newcastle, it heaped even more emphasis (as if any more was needed) on our showdown with defending European Champions Barcelona. The taunts of my friends and colleagues at work, which began immediately after the draw for the first round of the Champions League knockout stages, about end of season videos being on sale the day after the first leg at the Camp Nou, were suddenly echoing around in my head with enough volume to give Thor a headache.

It therefore was a huge relief when the Reds came back from Spain having conquered the Catalans. I kept my emotions close though, bearing in mind that it was, as Rafa and the players were quick to repeat, only half way through the tie.

Privately though I was convincing myself that we were surely through. The two teams were almost complete opposites. Barcelona has a throng of skilful attacking players capable of cutting through any defence in the world. Their defence however is possibly the worst organised I can remember for such a high profile club. In contrast, Liverpool are proving yet again both domestically and in Europe to be the most frugal of units defensively and yet when it comes to the crunch, still a little goal shy.

Importantly though, I could see no way that Barcelona would stop Liverpool from scoring at Anfield in the return fixture. As it was the woodwork and an element of bad luck coupled with poor finishing saw Barcelona run out 1-0 victors.

On paper it was our second high profile 1-0 home defeat in a matter of days. In reality however, it has to be remembered that both scorelines fail to tell the true stories of either game, where Liverpool had the lions share of chances and possession, more so in the United game.

But two lessons need to have been taken onboard from those two games. The first of those is something which cannot be addressed until the summer and that is the need for a world class striker.

When asked recently just what Liverpool F.C. needed to take it on to the next level, as true title contenders, Jamie Carragher’s simple and truthful response was “better players.” That has to start with a front man who can guarantee twenty goals a season. It is truly possible that Dirk Kuyt has it within him to become that man. Many, perhaps better players than him, have taken a full season or more to adjust to life in the English premier league. It is more robust and also faster paced than any of its European equivalents. But we cannot afford to take the risk that Kuyt does not fulfil his potential again next term and fails to replicate his exceptional scoring record achieved in Holland.

Who that striker may be is open to debate. It would seem that though there has to be limits to the financial options open to Benitez, they are now a lot less restricted when compared to last summer. But as we have seen, limitless depth to a chairman’s pockets and the ability to attract the world’s best striker to your club certainly does not always mean an instant return. Shevchenko may yet weigh in with what could prove crucial goals for Chelsea, but I shall always remember him for an obvious failed penalty attempt, when for all his achievements, he would have looked more at home in the road crossing scene of Watership Down.

The other lesson which is far more immediate is the need to avoid complacency.

After last weekend and the dour game at Villa, Liverpool look to be cruising. Almost as though nobody will catch us for fourth spot and the league will take care of itself. This is by no means the case although it would appear that only Tottenham seem capable of a run good enough to dislodge the Reds. Perhaps the players feel they need to stay fit for the European finale and are content to tick over in the league. Perhaps I shouldn’t jump to conclusions after one mediocre performance.

Worryingly though if complacency is a factor, there must be a danger that this attitude can spill over to the Champions League. Ronald Koeman was quick to point out that his PSV side would have preferred any other team than Liverpool in the forthcoming round. Qualifying this statement with the fact that the sides had already met in the group stages, Koeman used the word disappointment in his assessment of the tie. Coming from the man who masterminded our exit from last years competition, I hope and believe that Rafa will take the Dutchman’s comments with the pinch of salt they deserve. More important is his ability to convey this to the Liverpool squad, who could be forgiven for assuming that having already seen off Eindhoven once then a repeat would be a formality.

Should this be the case then a potential semi final repeat of 2005 is on the horizon.

Only this morning on the radio I heard that Chelsea may have to face Manchester in a showdown for league, FA Cup and Champions League honours. I hope the media continues to air this view and then Liverpool can go quietly about the business of spoiling one of those scenarios. Then history will have another chance to repeat itself and another glorious chapter of L.F.C. can be written.

© Jim Brown 2007

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