Yesterday night Liverpool FC and all its fans were dealt the final blow that sent them crashing out of this year’s Champions League with a game still left to play in the group phase.
For the top seeded team in the group this was not in the script. The sight of the Liverpool players in the tunnel after beating Debrecen, all starring at the TV screens desperately hoping Lyon would score an equaliser to keep their hopes of progressing in the competition alive, was a strange one to fathom. Having left qualification out of their own hands, on reflection even Steven Gerrard had to concede his side got only what they deserved.
Combine this with Liverpool’s seventh position in the league and it doesn’t look good. The consequences of not finishing in the top four of the EPL, and therefore not qualifying for the Champions League next term, are well known. Financially Liverpool are on a knife edge as it is, with no money for a new stadium, owners who won’t speak to each other and now far less revenue than would have been budgeted for from this season – not making the Champions League next year is not an option.
Benitez tried to put a brave face on things in his post match interview by assuring the Liverpool faithful that his side would finish at least in the top four. I’m not convinced, and in reality what else was he ever going to say? Regardless of results the truth is that the club don’t have the resources, nor board cohesion to replace the manager. So this approach at least is one avenue for change not open to Liverpool at present.
Only time will tell, as Liverpool may well win the Europa League and finish in the top four come the end of the season. The fans would hail the campaign as a great success and in a similar fashion to last season pretend the obvious shortcomings of the side are not there.
Last term Liverpool were free and clear of United at one stage and it was said that only the Premier League trophy going to Anfeild could be considered a successful season with such a healthy cushion. A capitulation resulted in United winning their third league title in a row, but a late season flurry from Liverpool, including a convincing win over United, convinced the Liverpool faithful into thinking second place was a good barometer of progress and Liverpool would ‘win it next year.’
I cannot think of any other scenario where this sort of ‘progress’ would be deemed acceptable. For example four months ago any Liverpool fan would have scoffed at conversations around the Europa League, where as now, faced with the very real prospect of it being the clubs only chance of silverware, it suddenly becomes a more significant competition.
With the Premier League getting ever more competitive, and sides like Man City, Tottenham and Villa coming into contention, Liverpool have gone backwards – not forwards. Aquilani may have a storming second half of the season, Torres may get fit and score goals and Gerrard may well put in a run of performances that drag Liverpool kicking and screaming up the table as he always seems to do.
But how long can the Anfeild blue print for success be based solely on the performance of so few individuals? They are not super human and will fall short eventually. It’s time Liverpool took an honest hard look at the reality; the bigger problem is there is no money or time to put it right even if they did. Maybe that says enough in itself?