Liverpool: Forget The Euro Embarrassment, Gerrard Will See Us Through
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can’t remember where Ludogorets are from. I can’t even remember how to spell their name; it’s Ludogorets. And they’re from Bulgaria apparently. I’ve just checked. I’ll forget again in a minute though. Which is genuinely no disrespect to them; they’ve been in existence for just over a decade, their star signing supposedly costs less than my car (and, trust me, my car’s not that good), they’re supposed to be the whipping boys of this group, the after-thought, the team that makes up the numbers.
All of which makes last night all the more worrying.
It had started gloriously enough. The (horrible in fairness) Champions League theme tune, the blue hoarding round the ground, the mosaic that filled the Kop of the five (count them United, City, Chelski, the Arsenal - that’s FIVE) European Cups that we’ve won, the Kop in full glorious voice; another wonderful European night in a history of many.
Unfortunately the lads on the pitch seemed to be either unaware of all this or far too bloody aware thank you very much. There was a nervousness, a cautiousness, a lack of creativity, a hangover from the Villa game. There was, quite basically, absolutely nothing happening. And it kept not happening for very long periods.
The 4-1-4-1 was back again. Coutinho in a central role, able to thread his devastating through balls for Daniel Sturridge’s explosive runs, his intuitive almost telepathic connection with the little Brazilian working to the same devastating effect as it did last year. Except that didn’t happen did it, Roy Hodgson broke Daniel Sturridge for us didn’t he? So what we had was Mario. And Mario doesn’t look sharp yet. Maybe Mario never looks sharp. Maybe Mario just does Mario - and I’m not initiating a backlash, I’m just accepting that he’s Mario and maybe ‘energetic’ doesn’t happen, maybe he’ll be a better Mario with Sturridge next to him and a diamond behind but Roy Hodgson…oh, let’s not bother.
Mario’s tracking back though, he’s digging into midfield, he’s doing nothing wrong. He’ll be fine.
But we were talking Coutinho weren’t we? Dog of a game. Absolute dog of a game. Nothing went right. One of those nights were you want the lad subbed just to give him a break, just so he won’t get worse, just so it won’t affect him.
Perhaps he’d have been better in the diamond. Sorry to go on about this but... the diamond, Brendan, for the love of God, just stick to the diamond. We like the diamond, the diamond’s lovely, the diamond works.
And when the diamond arrived and Borini replaced Lallana (ran around a lot, was okay-ish) and Lucas bizarrely replaced Coutinho (sorry, not getting that one, love Lucas but missing Joe Allen, damned Andorran astro turf) we started to look decent. Which was obviously when the ‘unfancied Bulgarians’ started to really threaten. They’d looked decent earlier, moved the ball well, now they added bite. Hit the post, missed the rebound. We got away with that one.
“Only one team looking like scoring here” I said to the guy next to me. Which always works. Which gave us a first Balotelli goal - one of those goals that you only realise is actually a really good finish when you see it on the telly later but looks like a scramble at the game.
Safety, then. Relief.
Not exactly. We don’t do that do we? Don’t do easy. There had to be drama. Sterling lost the ball in attack, Ludogorets broke and finished clinically. One point against the weakest team in the group. At home. Real must be bloody terrified having only put the five against Basel.
Luckily we have a right back who wouldn’t give up, who chased a lost cause in the 93rd minute, who forced a back pass to a keeper, who forced a mistake from that keeper, who won a penalty. Luckily we have a captain who has cojones the size of the universe. You want pressurised penalties? That’s the one. That’s your Champions League group hopes resting on that kick. The chants for Gerrard at that point were only matched in their fervour by the cheers he received for giving Simon Mignolet the most public b*****ing you’ve ever seen.
Because Gerrard knows. Knows what this means. Knows how badly he wants this again. And again he rescued us on a night when we’d conspired to throw it all away.
There will be better European nights than this. There WILL be. This is just the start.