Many pundits talk about how poor decisions from officials "even out" over the course of a season. If that's true then Liverpool should get a goal they clearly don't deserve thanks to a poorly positioned linesman by the time the season is over.
Whether that goal then turns out to help us win a game is back down to us though. If we play like we did on Saturday we'll probably need to be handed two or more goals in that game to come away with the points. There's no doubt we didn't deserve to go behind when we did, and we did create many chances throughout the game, but we never looked like getting anything from the game. Bolton is now officially Rafa's bogey ground.
Rafa was annoyed after the game, and it's understandable. After spending hours studying videos and trying to work out how best to overcome the physical nature of Bolton's game and the way they use their physical fitness to keep closing down Liverpool when the Reds are on the ball, it pretty much all came down to a linesman's needless error. TV replays showed that the linesman was positioned so poorly that he couldn't possible rule on whether Pepe was outside the box when he left go of the ball – so why did he decide he would judge it? Was it down to his own reaction to the reaction of those in the stands? If so then he needs to be taken off the list of Premiership officials because Bolton isn’t the only ground with vocal home supporters. Whatever it was, it's a pity that there's no workable way of using video evidence during a game to decide these things. Rafa said he knew the linesman had it wrong at the time (although he was even less able to be sure of that from where he was standing) but accepts he’s powerless to do anything about it.
He said afterwards: “It's clear that a mistake has been made. Pepe let go of the ball inside the area and then kicked it outside. The linesman was in a bad position. I knew at the time it was a mistake but what can you do? Every week we can talk about incidents but nothing changes. It's annoying.”
It’s hard to know what can be changed really, but it does seem that the only discussions on whether anything can be done are carried out in the press or on TV. Nobody with any power at either national or international level seems willing to look at some options or to carry out some trials. Talk of having sensors in footballs has stayed as pretty much just that – talk. If such things were introduced then it wouldn’t be too hard to extend their use to situations like what happened on Saturday, but don’t hold your breath.
Rafa says that one bad decision turned the game away from Liverpool: “Up until that point we were controlling almost everything, apart from a couple of long throws which you expect here. The first goal changed things and then we conceded the second too soon in the second half.”
That second goal was nobody’s fault other than Liverpool’s, but it heralded the start of desperation football from Liverpool in many ways. And that’s not something Liverpool are very good at really: “In the last twenty minutes we started losing second balls and then playing too many long balls which don't do anything.”
Rafa won’t yet decide if Liverpool’s hopes for a league title are over, which is fair enough because it is still way too early to say such things. However if Liverpool play this way against the teams who treat a visit of Liverpool as a cup final then the Reds have no chance of winning the league. This defeat and the defeat at Goodison, alongside the draw at Sheffield United, are all examples of points lost to teams who were up for what was one of their most important games of the season. One point from nine in those games is going to be costly unless we stop it now. We lost to Chelsea too, but we always looked much closer to getting something out of that game, going down only to a unique goal from Didier Drogba. Rafa wants to wait and see how things go before writing off those league hopes, because he knows things soon change in football: “Maybe if we talk in a couple of weeks time it will be a different situation. We have experience of dealing with these questions. We know what was said when we lost two in a row earlier in the season and then we won two games quickly to change things. Now it is important to be calm and believe it is too soon to make judgements about the title. We can talk now about the problem, but two wins in a row will put us back in a challenging position.”
Of course the other “excuse” or “reason” (depending on how you look at it) that Liverpool have for losing games and dropping points is the international break. Liverpool go into this one with confidence shot to pieces, so Rafa will have hard work on his hands when the players do get back to Melwood: “This is a bad time with an international break now, but afterwards we must keep winning our home games and start to do the same away,” Rafa said.
It’s also of course important to Liverpool that the other clubs also get some bad spells, that they too get linesmen who can’t see properly to make decisions. A few seasons ago the figure six was often bandied about regarding how many games a team could afford to lose. That’s been reduced in the last couple of seasons, but Liverpool haven’t got many lives left in that respect even by those standards. Rafa is aware that other teams’ form could give Liverpool more breathing space: “How many we can lose depends on the other teams. I don't know how many Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are going to lose. It's not easy to say. Eighty-two points last season was a record for Liverpool and we finished third. This season will be different. The difference between the top sides is not as big as before. Now there are also other sides who can beat or take points from the top sides; Bolton here, Aston Villa drawing with Chelsea.”
The press are of course delighted to see Rafa lose after changing his team again, but that’s not why Liverpool lost. Rafa told them so: “I do not accept that rotation and changing the team is the problem.” Some of his changes for this game were made with the way Bolton play in mind: “Every manager who comes here will tell you the same – it's a physical game against a physical team, long balls, second balls, throw-ins, corners. This is the style of football. You are not telling lies.”
As we’re on the subject of reasons / excuses for defeat, Rafa wanted to add one more to the list: “For the players, you cannot play a game like this just two days after a Champions League match. I cannot understand that.”
That’s one problem which also seems won’t ever change. Of course it’s part of the reason why Rafa chooses to rotate his team, the Spaniard trying to ensure he has eleven quality players on the pitch for each game, all as fit as they possibly can be.