Champions League – Result
Debrecen 0 Liverpool 1
David Ngog’s early goal was enough for Liverpool to have done their bit on the night – but events in Italy meant it was all academic. Liverpool are now looking forward to playing in the Europa Cup after Christmas, their earlier games in the group putting them there.
The disappointment is massive for Liverpool. To be playing for what used to be called the UEFA Cup is something Liverpool have not done for a long time, and something they have never done under Rafa Benítez.
It means playing on Thursday nights, it means league games getting postponed until the Sunday, it means we aren’t where we want to be. But for those who harp on about how important it is for Liverpool to win trophies, it means they go from struggling outsiders in this competition to, already, favourites in the other one.
The danger in dwelling on the disappointment is that the critics will grumble into the night about this game. But looking at this game alone Liverpool actually won. It might ‘only’ be Debrecen, it might be with the strongest side they’ve had available in some time, but it’s still a win, the start of a winning run if the players’ heads can be lifted in time for the weekend.
From the first league game when Carragher and Skrtel clashed heads until the draw on Saturday when Agger and Babel were off injured early on in the game Liverpool have had an injury curse hanging over them. When injuries weren’t decimating the squad viruses were and even tonight Liverpool still couldn’t put their strongest line-up out, Fernando Torres the biggest missing name.
But Liverpool did win. They did the job they set out to do on the night tonight. Ngog got the only goal, and Debrecen rarely threatened. As time ticked down Rafa clearly felt it was time to protect his lead, substitutions aimed more at wasting a bit of time than creating goals.
If Liverpool can draw a line between Sunday’s draw and tonight’s win, they can label the part before the line as “the bad times”.
Injuries and illness can’t be blamed for all the poor results. But they have played a massive part.
That can still be addressed to some extent, maybe some of those injuries are down to players coming back too soon or being risked too long. Players need to be honest about their condition – especially when away on international duty.
And with so many players getting a chance to roll their sleeves up and fight it will be easier to identify which players just didn’t bother.
We’ll never concede a goal to a beachball again, but we do need to find out why we don’t turn pressure into goals often enough. Even after mentioning the fact Torres and Gerrard have rarely played together, even after mentioning that Ngog is still learning and Aquilani has yet to play more than a cameo, even after just mentioning Voronin, it’s clear Liverpool need to find more goals.
Scoring goals is of course vital, which is why the other side always try so hard to do so. All through Rafa’s most stubborn periods of squad rotation he avoided too many changes to the back four, especially the centre-backs, but this season he has had no choice at all.
But it’s not always down to the defenders when the defending isn’t working. A settled back-four will help, but the whole team need to make sure they know their responsibilities.
Off the field it’s time some progress was made on the new stadium, or on new investment, because despite the critics telling us all how much Rafa has spent, over the last two season he’s only spent what he raised in sales. In fact he’s made a slight profit.
And in January Liverpool need to do all they can to strengthen a squad that still has too many weaknesses. Money needs to be found, in particular the last two season’s transfer budgets. And if improved deals for a handful of players have cost the club £40m – on top of their existing wages – we might just be paying them too much.
It’s important to pay players well, and new deals will eat into the transfer budget – but not to the extent they seem to have done.
It’s time to stop mentioning the impact of the absence of Xabi Alonso. He wanted to leave, and if his absence is so big a factor then what about the absence of Torres, Gerrard and so many others game after game this season?
Liverpool are not too far removed from the side that finished second in the table last season – when everyone is available.
And despite the disappointment tonight’s result in Italy caused, there is still a lot of season to come, still a lot of excitement possible.
Next up is the derby, always a difficult tie – but one we can win if we fight for it.
Debrecen: 1 Poleksic, 10 Bodnar, 17 Meszaros, 21 Fodor (Dombi 78), 24 Mijadinoski, 25 Szelesi, 30 Kiss, 55 Szakaly (Coulibaly 62),77 Czvitkovics, 86 Laczko, 14 Rudolf
Subs: 12 Pantic, 16 Komlosi, 6 Ramos, 7 Dombi, 22 Bernath, 33 Varga, 39 Coulibaly
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 Johnson, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 22 Insua, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 12 Aurelio (Dossena 89), 8 Gerrard (Aquilani 90+2), 18 Kuyt, 24 Ngog (Benayoun 77)
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 16 Kyrgiakos, 37 Skrtel, 38 Dossena, 4 Aquilani, 15 Benayoun, 26 Spearing
Goal: Ngog 4