Magnificent Suarez Could've Stop A Passion Injected Liverpool From Exiting Europe
So, so close to glory. So close to stepping into the annals of history, so close to becoming one of those European nights that fans speak of in hushed, reverential tones. So close to a comeback of nigh on Istanbul-esque proportions.
That the need for a comeback of that level was almost entirely self inflicted is neither here nor there; the focus for tonight should be on the fact that we almost achieved it.
It would be easy, far too easy, to blame tonight's failure to advance in the Europa League on one calamitous error by the otherwise impeccable Jamie Carragher. Easy and unjust. The lack of qualification tonight, on a night when Liverpool terrified Zenit St Petersburg, recovering from the conceding of an early, vital away goal to win 3-1 on the night, draw 3-3 on aggregate and leave the competition purely on the away goals rule has more to do with a transition in the team's organisation and a lack of depth of true quality in the squad.
Two lapses in concentration in the away leg last Thursday had left Liverpool with a massive hurdle ahead of them. What was needed was a classic European night; a night full of passion from both pitch and stands. What was needed from the team was a night of application, energy and organisation.
I've been torn on Brendan Rodgers this season; tonight his game plan was almost perfect - 4-5-1 without the ball, 3-4-3 with. The shape and organisation was magnificent, the application of tactics faultless, the midfield utterly masterful; hassling, harrying, chasing down every 50-50 ball, Lucas was magnificent, Allen showed some return to his early season form, constantly ticking the ball over. Gerrard orchestrated, Downing continued his resurgence, Henderson applied his now customary energy in closest support to Suarez. In reality everybody supported Suarez; we were practically a team of 'false 9s'.
And Suarez? Suarez was magnificent. Again. Two scintillating free kicks either side of what Joe Allen will count as his first real Liverpool goal (his previous being a late, pointless consolation in an already lost game). Two goals in the space of five first half minutes to give hope. Hope that a momentary loss of control by Carragher, gifting a goal to the otherwise well controlled (and go on, I'll say it; less than Incredible) Hulk, leaving us needing four goals in order to qualify would not be the game's crucial moment.
A third on the hour (Suarez' second, glorious, free kick) convinced that this was happening. We were part of history once again; another story to tell, another moment when 'we were there.'
And the hour mark was crucial. With the hour, with the third goal, came a double substitution; Shelvey and Assaidi for Allen and Henderson. Presumably the thinking was that we needed to maintain the high tempo, needed fresh legs. Both Allen and Henderson had put a fine shift in, one can only assume that they were tiring. The midfield shape changed and dominance was no longer as total.
Current rumour has it that the manager doesn't rate Assaidi; he is a last remnant of the Dalglish era. Here he showed pace and trickery and combined well with Enrique but there is little evidence of an end product. Shelvey has long been viewed as raw potential with a future within the club; at the moment it is hard to see what he offers the team, other than the constant potential for disaster. His first impact on the game was to receive a booking for a needless foul; Hulk the wasteful recipient of a free kick in a dangerous area.
The final 20 minutes of the evening raced away, the team's endeavour ultimately insufficient to conquer the task that they had set themselves in the first 110 minutes of the two legged tie; the lasting image of the evening a distraught Suarez rocking back and forth on the turf, his best efforts not rewarded
And in the end a glorious 3-1 victory from a losing position was't enough. In a pulsating, engrossing, thrilling game of football it's impossible to fault any individual tonight; definitely not Jamie Carragher making his last European appearance for the club. One mistake but otherwise immense.
The truth of tonight is that we lack quality in depth; merely being able to bring on the cup tied Sturridge or Coutinho would have added an injection of quality alongside freshness to replace tiring legs. Other signings of this standard are now necessary; there were no game changers on the bench tonight when needed, no impact players.
Liverpool gave everything last night; they gave us the passion and pride that we required. The summer will be, as Brendan Rodgers has said many times, about adding quality and character to the group. On tonight's showing, from tactic to implementation to the result on the evening, I'm coming round to Brendan's way of thinking.