Liverpool: Let's Summon The Olympiakos Spirit And Flatten Zenit At Anfield...
A cold night in late February? Bit of mist in the air? A chill at the back of your throat? Sublime.
And when you have your backs against the wall? When the pressure is really on?
Anfield has a history of epic European nights; incredible comebacks against the odds, sterling defences of leads gained on foreign grounds, unbelievable, glorious victories.
And the names that have fallen; Barcelona put to the sword by Gary McAllister, Real Madrid taken apart in a 4-0 victory, the hapless Andrea Dossena scoring the fourth goal for the second time in three days (the previous occasion had been the winner against Manchester United. At Old Trafford. Its only four years ago. It seems like a lifetime) and the greatest night of all - Luis Garcia's 'ghost goal' against Chelsea. The greatest atmosphere I have ever encountered in a football stadium.
Yes, Anfield has a history of legendary European nights. Which is just as well as we now need another tonight.
On a night when first half defensive frailty gave way to solidity, when the recently maligned Pepe Reina appeared to have kept hope alive with a string of fine saves, when Liverpool seemed on the edge of a typical successful European away performance we were once again undone by small details.
Seemingly willing to sit back and aim to hit Zenit on the break with Luis Suarez as a lone striker in the first leg, we spent the first half with our midfield failing to protect the central defensive pairing of Skrtel (returning to his previous club) and Carragher. Defending was of the last gasp variety and Zenit seemed able to cut through us at any opportunity. A fully fit Lucas would be more convincing in the holding midfielder role than Joe Allen was; bite was missing from our midfield yet again.
Early chances had fallen to both teams with Suarez clipping the ball just wide of the post after a typical piece of slaloming in the area. Gerrard continued to find Suarez throughout the evening but nothing seemed to stick for the Uruguayan. One particularly suicidal piece of Zenit passing in the fifteenth minute presented Suarez with Liverpool's best chance of the evening; rounding the keeper he hesitated a beat too long before attempting to slot the ball into the net; a victim of the state of the frozen pitch perhaps? Whatever the cause, it was long enough to allow the defender to clear.
As the game progressed a welcome stalemate seemed to beckon. And then the small details came into play.
Jordan Henderson was caught mid dalliance with the ball near the centre circle; a through ball to Hulk saw a thunderous shot hit the top corner of the net. It would be ingracious to criticise Henderson at this point, he has had a fine season to date.
A 1-0 loss would not have been a catastrophic result to take back to L4. Within 3 minutes we had changed that position.
The same kind of hopeful ball that we have been failing to defend all season was slung into the box from the right wing. An onrushing Semak took advantage and we had once again conceded two goals in the last quarter of a match. Once again both resulted from our own errors.There is something lacking in our ability to concentrate for 90 minutes. Something in the ability of our team structure to defend, to see out a match.
So, we summon the spirit of the Olympiakos comeback, the idea that we are never beaten, we break out the flags, we create a cauldron and we hope that somehow this communicates itself to the players.
Liverpool did very little wrong in the first leg, it was a loss by fine margins. If we promise that we will take care of the big picture next week, if we look after the pride and the passion, could the players set their minds to the fine details?