Liverpool's defeat to Manchester United yesterday was something that hit all Reds extremely hard. The list of things wrong with the performance yesterday is a long one. It's now up to Rafael Benitez to work out how he can fix things.
His answer today was that he and his staff and players have to pull together: "Now is the time for the manager, the captain and all my staff to work together to help all the players. For the last two weeks we've all been doing this, and now we must try even harder. I said to the players straight after the game that there's nothing they can do about what happened now, but they have to show everyone they have character. We know they have the quality, but maybe sometimes you need even more than this."
What Liverpool seemed to lack yesterday, above all else, was a desire to win. Considering it's one of the fiercest games in the football calendar it had all the hallmarks of being a friendly. The crowd were quiet for most of the game, nobody looked too bothered. Even United didn't seem to be trying that hard, not that they needed to.
Rafa went on: "When you're Liverpool Football Club, you know you have a responsibility to try to win every game and play well. Maybe this is not always possible, but it's what we try to do. In the first 25 minutes against Manchester United, we were okay. We had possession in attacking areas, but didn't create clear chances."
What Liverpool may also be lacking is confidence, and that's another point Rafa wants his players to work on: "The players worked hard, but it's clear we need to recuperate their confidence now. We can only do this by training and winning games. It's not going to happen in two games, but over a longer period. Key players are not at their level. We have a strong spine to our team, but if you analyse things you can see where we need to improve. Once we conceded the first goal, we had a lot of problems because we were playing a side with quality and experience."
Rafa wants to improve the players' confidence, and he needs to do that quickly. Whether or not Liverpool have any chance of being title contenders now this season is something we shouldn't worry about for now. On paper it's a possibility that everyone else will slip up enough to let us back in over the coming months, but we need to worry about our own game first. For now it's not even worth thinking about. It's too big a psychological barrier for us.
The next few games should be looked at in isolation as opportunities to turn the season round. Our next four games are all at home, starting and ending with games against Reading. First up we've got the Carling Cup match, and although Rafa usually fields a younger team we should still be able to make a big effort at winning it. Then it's Aston Villa in the league, and although no game is a formality we should really be able to win it, especially if we show that character so often spoken about. Then we entertain Bordeaux, again no formality but a win in that game puts us into a real comfort zone in the Champions League. The last of the four is in the league against Reading, and we need to do to them what Arsenal did against them yesterday. Not easy the way we've been playing, but certainly possible.
After that our next fixture is away to Arsenal, and unless we've done well in these next four games we'll be embarrassed against Arsenal.