Liverpool: Can Sterling's Confidence Recover After League Cup C***-Up?
We don’t do things easy nowadays, don’t do them simple. We don’t half give you value for your money, though.
The worry before the game was that - despite this ‘there’s alternatives all the way through the squad’ theory that I’ve been espousing since mid-August - a couple of crucial injuries had been more than enough to undo us; Daniel Sturridge’s absence is becoming more pronounced with each game, there’s a sharpness, a movement, a fluidity, a focal point which is missing at the moment. Rickie Lambert, making his first start and appointed captain for the evening, is struggling to make an impact. The shirt is weighing heavily on the forward, the number 9 on the back seeming to carry too much historic heft. Balotelli seems to be some of the answer but he’s not there yet.
Joe Allen’s absence is (surprisingly to some) having a similar effect in the middle of the park; the drive that he brings has been sorely lacking. Tuesday night, though, showed exactly what Adam Lallana can bring to the party; there’s trickery and invention and a beautiful, inventive use of space. Lallana can become crucial to this team, can become utterly invaluable. Raheem Sterling already is, of course, and against Boro he was almost impeccable. Until the 93rd minute.
The evening started as though it were likely to be a procession. 17 year old local lad (and the next ‘next big thing’) Jordan Rossiter marked his debut with a goal from distance, passed through a mass of bodies into the Anfield Road end net after a blocked Balotelli shot fell nicely in the space before him. Six weeks younger and he’d have taken Michael Owen’s mantle as youngest ever Liverpool goal scorer. The tidiness, intelligence and professionalism that embodied his work throughout the evening will suffice for now. He was replaced late on by another debutant, another Jordan (we have lots of Jordans, we’re buying ALL the Jordans) who carried on with a similar approach.
Boro didn’t roll over though. Boro capitalised on our current inbuilt errors. A first equaliser from YET ANOTHER badly handled dead ball situation, a second - equalising substitute Suso’s addition to the scorecard - came in that 93rd minute. Sterling has the ball, there are seconds to go, we’ve done enough, all that remains is to run down the game, take the ball to the corner, invite a foul, invite a corner or a throw, go short, keep possession, wait on the whistle. Raheem decides a back pass might be nice. Decides that hitting the ball to that guy there... Hold on I was sure there was someone there just then, oh bugger might be appropriate. It’s not. Schoolboy error. A Toure foul brings a penalty.
A penalty that leads to penalties. Loads of penalties. Hundreds of the bloody things. Okay, not hundreds - thirty. Thirty’s enough isn’t it? Thirty’s a lot of penalties. More penalties than have ever been seen in a Carling/Capital One/Worthington/Milk/League/Whatever Cup. And 27 of them were excellent. England coaches? Get the video. Watch it, that’s how you take pens. Both teams. Low, hard, high, delicate, hammered, goals, everybody. Everybody except the lad who put it wide for Liverpool to go through and save Raheem Sterling being the man who cost Liverpool progression in a cup that we can win (no Everton, no United, no Arsenal, field narrowing). We’ll see on Saturday if that back pass and missing his own penalty will affect his mentality, we’ll see how strong his psyche is, hopefully it’s everything that we think it is.
We weren’t good. We had flashes but we weren’t as convincing as you’d hope, as you’d want. There’s work to do but it will be done. There’s promise showing, there were good performances and when those good performances become team performances we’re going to start looking good again.
Have I tipped us to win this yet?
We’re going to win this. We’re going to win everything.